The inevitable happened on Monday morning. We all knew it was coming and probably could have predicted it would be sometime in the lead-up to the 2019 trade deadline on Feb. 7. Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans, and now it’s official.
His agent, Rich Paul, even released a public statement to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, saying “Anthony wanted to be honest and clear with his intentions.” Those intentions include not signing a contract extension with New Orleans and the goal of joining a contender.
After years of speculation about where Davis would go when the light dimmed in New Orleans, soon we will find out. And once he does get traded, it will be among the most consequential moves in NBA history.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe said it might be the most important trade since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went from the Bucks to the Lakers in 1975. Ponder that for a few seconds, and it’s hard to strongly disagree.
Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Charles Barkley come to mind. Allen Iverson was a bigger star than Davis when he got sent to the Nuggets, but he was in his 30s by then. Same with Shaquille O’Neal when he went from L.A. to Miami.
O’Neal very quickly led the Heat to a championship, of course. But Davis could very well put his next team into title contention in the near future, depending on where he goes.
Bar arguments aside, a Davis deal would be massive. He is well on his way to a fourth All-NBA selection, averaging 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.6 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. He is only 25 and on a team-friendly deal in this era of supermax contracts, making $25.4 million this season and $27.1 million the next. He is technically under contract for 2020-21 as well, for $28.8 million, but it’s a player option.
Trading for Davis would ultimately require a lot of money for his next team to keep him. But unlike Leonard and Paul George, a deal done now would give teams more than one season with him to figure it out and convince him to stay.
The dots are already being connected for the most obvious teams. The LeBron James-led Lakers could theoretically toss together a package of young prospects — like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma — and use Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s contract to match the money. The Celtics could center a deal around Jayson Tatum with a collection of picks and guys like Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris to balance the salaries.
The Celtics, though, would have to wait until July 1 due to a provision in the CBA preventing teams from trading for two players with designated player extensions. That puts their interest on hold, but it doesn’t entirely rule them out. All they really have to do is hope Davis goes nowhere between now and Feb. 7.
The Sixers have also been thrown out there because of Ben Simmons, who is good enough to be the centerpiece of a deal for Davis, and Philly’s clear willingness to make bold moves. He would be traded to the state where he played college ball, much like Victor Oladipo did with Indiana.
There is also a group of teams that could load up the truck with assets for Davis, but would have nothing left to build around him. Those would include the Knicks, Bulls and Heat.
Those reading this in the Washington area may be scanning for a scenario that involves the Wizards. The truth is, it’s not all that crazy to think they could make a competitive offer. But any such deal would require Bradley Beal for it to be in any way realistic.
Beal, 25, looks likely to be named a two-time All-Star this week. He, like Davis, is under team control through 2020-21 and on a reasonable deal. He is due to make about $55.9 million the next two years and 2020-21 isn’t a player option.
If the Wizards attached a first-round pick plus, say Troy Brown Jr., that is by no means laughable, especially if the Pelicans do what most teams have done in this scenario and trade their star to the other conference. It would just require a lot of things to go their way to work out.
Davis would have to be sold on playing with Otto Porter Jr. in the short-term, and Porter and John Wall next season to consider re-signing. Wall is recovering from serious surgery on his left heel. In theory, he could play very well with Davis, but his injury offers some unknowns.
The Wizards would have to take a risk in a deal for Davis, not knowing whether he would sign beyond next season. Giving up Beal and/or first-round picks would mortgage the future for a guy who could leave in a year-and-a-half.
That gamble, however, worked out for the Thunder with George and is paying dividends for the Raptors with Leonard. And both of those guys were for one year at the time. If a Davis experiment didn’t work out, and the Wizards could sense it before next year’s trade deadline, they would have the most valuable trade chip in the game.
The Wizards, however, have not really been in the mix with superstar trades before. They were linked to George and Leonard in trade rumors but never as serious suitors. Maybe Davis is the exception, but it would require them to be much more aggressive than they have been in recent years.
One team no one seems to be linking to Davis that makes sense is the Phoenix Suns. Though they are one of the worst teams in the NBA and wouldn’t give him the opportunity to win this season, they have more young assets than most and could pair Davis with Devin Booker, a 22-year-old guard with obvious star potential.
Booker would be the best perimeter player Davis has ever run with. They could form a tandem that very soon could rank among the best in the league.
The Suns could center a deal around 2018 first overall pick Deandre Ayton. They could add T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson, making the money match while giving New Orleans three young players with varying degrees of upside.
The Suns would be left with Davis, Booker and a still-stocked cupboard of young players, like Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr., plus cap room to add more this summer. If they could somehow hold onto their 2019 first round pick, they could be set up to be very good and very soon.
Even if they gave up the 2019 pick, it could be worth it. And the Pelicans would have a nice haul highlighted by Ayton and what could turn into Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett.
All that said, the Lakers and Celtics still seem like the favorites. They have assets and offer guarantees of winning immediately.
No one knows where Davis will go, but after Monday’s news, it seems like a lock he will be going somewhere and soon.
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