The news NBA fans had been anticipating all season came to fruition on Monday when Anthony Davis asked to be traded out of New Orleans, ideally landing with a team that can, “win consistently and compete for a championship”, according to his agent Rich Paul. With the Pelicans sagging to 13th in the West as of Monday night, the five-time All-Star and his camp signaled they are ready to move on, hoping a superstar partner-in-crime can team up with Davis for a Finals run.
A pair of teams have been hailed as the premier Davis destinations for months. The Lakers and Celtics fit all the criteria necessary for Davis, and both teams should be able to secure him long-term if a trade is made. Both squads have leaders with championship pedigree, a long history of titles and an infrastructure built for sustainable success. As the NBA looks to the next decade, a return to the Finals for Boston or Los Angeles feels like a natural progression from the Warriors dynasty.
Don’t be so fast to whittle down the Davis suitors, though. Los Angeles was assumed to be the top destination for Kawhi Leonard until the Raptors swooped in and dangled DeMar DeRozan this summer. Danny Ainge is notoriously protective of his young assets, and may shield Jayson Tatum and some of Boston’s more valued draft picks from a potential deal. The list of landing spots is longer than originally assumed.
So where else could Davis land either before February’s trade deadline or during the offseason? Here’s a quick breakdown of the fringe suitors, sorted into three key categories.
Group 1: The Tankers
New York Knicks
New York has a pair of variables that could swing a potential Davis deal. A deal done in February dilutes New Orleans’ potential return, with a trade this summer the most likely option. It’s uncertain whether the Knicks will part ways with Kristaps Porzingis, and any combination headlined by Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina isn’t going to excite the Pelicans. A prized rookie could, though.
The framework becomes more intriguing if the Knicks land a top-three pick, significantly so if New York snags Zion Williamson at No. 1 overall. Transitioning from one year remaining on Davis’ deal to over a half-decade of team control with Williamson is enticing, along with whatever young assets New Orleans can pry from the Knicks’ brass.
There’s one more complication with a potential Knicks deal. Trading for one year of Davis is a risky bet, even more so if New York doesn’t land Kevin Durant or another max player this summer. Davis’ trade request stemmed from wanting to play for a winner. Without a second superstar in the fold, he’d likely bolt from New York in 2020. It will be a complicated next five months for the Knicks. But with the right lottery luck and a coup for Durant, a contender for the East crown could form at Madison Square Garden.
The Bulls would be pretty short-sighted to deal for Davis considering the lack of free-agent buzz in the Windy City. Much like the Knicks sans Durant, a long-term commitment from Davis to the Bulls is a shaky bet. Yet for New Orleans, a deal with Chicago could land a treasure chest of young assets. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are impressive young talents, and a top-three pick could make for a sweet offer. If John Paxson and Gar Forman eschew a rebuild, a hasty decision could be made in the pursuit of the hometown kid.
Group 2: The Rentals
General manager Masai Ujiri showed he wasn’t afraid to gamble with Toronto’s acquisition of Leonard last summer. Don’t discount his propensity to roll the dice again with a Davis deal. Toronto would likely vault to the top of the East hierarchy with a Davis-Leonard pairing, and even though Golden State would still be a heavy favorite in the Finals, the first Eastern Conference crown in franchise history would be a monumental accomplishment. Plus, another guaranteed year of Davis could convince Leonard to bypass the sunny shores of Los Angeles.
What could a potential Davis deal look like? The Raptors boast a treasure trove of young talent, including Indiana product OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and fringe All-Star candidate Pascal Siakam. Serge Ibaka would make for an obvious salary match, with $23 million owed on an expiring deal in 2019-20. If New Orleans is enticed by Toronto’s crew of youngsters, a deal could be in the works.
Leonard parting this summer would likely lead to a Davis departure in 2020, but don’t expect him to stick around that long. Davis would warrant a sizable share of assets in return if he’s dealt during next year’s trade season, and Toronto would likely recover a similar package to the Anunoby, VanVleet, Siakam trio if necessary. The risk isn’t as high as one would assume.
Portland Trail Blazers
There would be a touch of poetry in the Blazers acquiring the player who was partly responsible for their ending their 49-win campaign in 2017-18. Davis, Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday clamped Portland’s dynamic backcourt in a first-one sweep last year, leaving the Blazers to question the ceiling of their current group. Davis would raise Portland’s potential by a significant margin, although taking down Golden State would still be a sizeable upset.
It would be a surprise to see Portland dangle Damian Lillard. He’s been their franchise cornerstone since being drafted out of Weber State in 2012, leading the Blazers to the postseason in each of the last five seasons. Shipping the homegrown star for a rental would be both cruel and ill-advised.
That’s doesn’t disqualify Portland from a potential Davis deal, though. Lillard’s backcourt mate C.J. McCollum could entice New Orleans with two years left on his deal after 2018-19, and Jusef Nurkic could be an affordable replacement in the frontcourt. Young center Zach Collins is also an asset Portland could dangle. The Blazers haven’t reached the Western Conference finals since 2000. Acquiring Davis could vault them to a late-round battle with the Warriors.
ROUNDTABLE: Five Davis Trades the Pelicans Should Consider
Group 3: The Long-Term Fits
Could we see a reformed Big 3 in Philadelphia less than three months after its deal for Jimmy Butler? The mechanics for a shift in the East power dynamic is in place. The most obvious swap is Davis for Ben Simmons and matching salary. The 76ers’ point guard won’t hit restricted free-agency until 2020, and then will likely be extended to a maximum contract. The lengthy team control is likely enticing to New Orleans, and recouping Simmons could be of more interest than a package from Los Angeles or Boston. The former No. 1 picks shortcomings as a shooter is glaring, but he’s still one of the game’s premier young talents.
Philadelphia’s newest addition could also find his way to a New Orleans. Jimmy Butler on a young Pelicans team seems far from a match made in heaven, yet the right financial incentive could coerce Butler to stick in New Orleans long-term. Butler will be able to sign for just under five years and $190 million with his current team this summer, nearly $50 million more than any other franchise. If Butler is intent on snagging the full max, sending him to New Orleans as the centerpiece of the Davis deal could make sense.
Giannis and The Brow teaming up should send shivers down the spines of executives throughout the NBA, providing Milwaukee with the league’s premier front-court pairing. It’s perhaps the most fun landing spot for Davis, and not completely out of the question, either.
The Bucks could land Davis with a similar situation as projected with the 76ers and Jimmy Butler. If Khris Middleton is intent on fetching top dollar on the open market, he could be the biggest name sent to New Orleans for Davis. It will likely take a greater haul than Middleton and filler to acquire Davis, and although Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker and Milwaukee’s other young assets are impressive, they probably won’t move the needle for New Orleans. Consider the Bucks a significant long shot for Davis, but the idea of a Giannis-AD pairing is too exciting to leave unexamined.