A trade isn’t imminent, but if the Pelicans can’t win, they’ll want to trade Davis before losing him for nothing.
The Cavaliers and Celtics will likely soon finalize a blockbuster trade that sends Kyrie Irving to Boston. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, landing Irving could be the the precursor to hooking a bigger fish in the future: Anthony Davis.
If Anthony Davis becomes available — and the Celtics’ eyes are very much trained on him — Boston could throw together a package more compelling than just about anyone else’s.
Irving would be an indirect part of that package. The NBA’s superstar class respects his ballsy showman’s game.
There’s no way in hell the New Orleans Pelicans deal their transcendent star now — that’d be straight-up negligence. Davis is under contract with New Orleans through 2021 with no player option after signing a lucrative five-year max deal worth $127 million. He was an All-Star starter who made First Team All-NBA, becoming the biggest name the city has seen since Chris Paul.
As of August, at least on the surface, Davis has no desire to part ways with the franchise that drafted him first overall in 2012.
“I am happy here as a Pelican,” he said during his Aug. 6 youth camp in New Orleans. “I am happy here.”
But even though he’ll be dressed in Pelicans’ red and blue for the foreseeable future, Davis has been linked to Celtics’ green for quite some time. Nothing is remotely close to imminent, so Pelicans fans shouldn’t worry. But the rumors will continue to persist over the next few years, especially if New Orleans’ ship capsizes again this season.
Davis hears those rumblings. If it doesn’t come from his agent, he says, he doesn’t pay attention. But if the losses continue piling, as they have in previous seasons, one question will prevail:
How long will Davis put up with the Pelicans’ losing?
New Orleans has missed the playoffs in four of his five seasons in town, and in his first healthy season playing 75 games, the Pelicans went 34-48. That’s during the same season they traded for DeMarcus Cousins.
New Orleans couldn’t build on its 2015 playoff appearance after hiring Alvin Gentry as head coach. Instead, they’ve regressed into a team that has won 64 games over the past two seasons and is projected to miss the playoffs in an ever-improving Western Conference yet again.
The Pelicans were also unable to meaningfully upgrade their roster this summer: They re-signed Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $131 million deal, and added Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark. Now, with more than $86 million in guaranteed salaries through 2020 committed to Davis, Holiday, Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, and E’Twaun Moore, New Orleans will find it difficult to add impact players around its core — regardless of whether Boogie Cousins re-signs or not.
Davis, though, believes the Pelicans have enough depth to make a playoff run, according to The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s William Guillory. He wouldn’t have re-signed with New Orleans if he was thinking about leaving, he said on ESPN Radio’s Meet the All-Stars show.
But when Davis signed his five-year extension in 2015, the Pelicans looked like a team on the rise.
Yes, they were swept out of the West’s first round by the Warriors, but they looked like a totally different team then under Monty Williams. Then New Orleans fired Williams in favor of Gentry, and things have fallen through ever since.
Now, it’s fair to wonder: If things don’t change in New Orleans, will Anthony Davis change for them?
Star players on losing teams traditionally leave
Most recently, Gordon Hayward left a Utah Jazz franchise he helped revitalize for Boston this summer. The Jazz could have dealt him elsewhere before last year’s trade deadline and recouped something for losing him. Instead, they were left twiddling their thumbs as their best player jetted town for brighter lights.
This happens often, though some teams orchestrate last-ditch sign-and-trades.
Shaquille O’Neal left Orlando for Los Angeles. LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami, then Miami for Cleveland. Kevin Durant wrenched out Oklahoma City’s heart on the way to Golden State.
The list goes on. Those teams got nothing in return for their star players. Should the worst happen and the Pelicans’ situation fail to improve, New Orleans may want to follow the mold of those who did.
Just this summer, the Pacers traded Paul George on the final year of his contract to the Thunder for an underwhelming package of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Had the Pacers dealt George sooner, maybe they would have received more — but at least they got something.
The Kings dealt Cousins with a year and a half left on his contract to New Orleans for a package highlighted by Buddy Hield and a lottery pick they flipped into Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. The Bulls traded Jimmy Butler with two years left on his contract to Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the pick that became Lauri Markkanen.
The Nuggets famously dealt Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks for a deep bundle of young players and draft picks. That’s the best-case scenario for the Pelicans if life doesn’t improve and Davis looks elsewhere. New Orleans wants to be a team that recoups assets, not one that watches its biggest star leave for nothing.
The Celtics, even after the Kyrie Irving trade, still have loads of future trade chips
Yes, Boston surrendered the prized unprotected 2018 Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as part of the Irving deal, but Danny Ainge has more gems hidden up his sleeves.
For starters, he has both Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum as two pieces to begin a conversation. Boston also owns the rights to the Lakers’ first-round pick in 2018, so long as it lands between picks No. 2 and No. 5. If that pick lands at either No. 1 or below No. 5, Ainge gets his pick of the more favorable of the Kings’ and 76ers’ 2019 first-round picks (unless either of those picks is No. 1 overall).
The Celtics also own the Clippers’ lottery-protected 2019 first-round pick, the Grizzlies’ top-10 protected 2019 first-rounder, and a bevy of second-round picks, as well as Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes. Boston could also throw in either Gordon Hayward or Al Horford to match contracts, though dealing Horford for Davis would make more sense for the Celtics.
If the Pelicans’ situation continues to flounder, Boston certainly has the assets to allow New Orleans to save face instead of losing its star for nothing.
Pelicans fans definitely don’t need to worry about the team trading Anthony Davis anytime in the near future. A DeMarcus Cousins trade, in fact, is more likely than an AD trade if things go south this season.
But as long as the Celtics hold onto their assets, and Danny Ainge has proven he will, the connection to Boston will always be there. Because if things don’t straighten up in New Orleans and fast, Davis’ frustration will only grow.
And if the Pelicans don’t want to avoid losing their best player for no gain when his contract expires in 2021, trading him to the Celtics could be their best option.