To channel my inner-most fandom, it's time to fire up the trade machines. Anthony Davis has reportedly asked for a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, ending his seven-plus year tenure with the franchise. After Davis made it evidently clear he would not sign any extension with the Pelicans, super-max or otherwise, there was no reason for the Pelicans to fight this request. Davis will be traded, and this will be his last season in a Pelicans jersey.
The question becomes: Are they going to deal him at the trade deadline? Only ten days exist between the trade deadline and the Davis request, giving the front office a short amount of time to negotiate a deal that might be the biggest reshaper for the franchise and the make-or-break to what keeps them in New Orleans. No pressure.
There are many factors at play in the trade saga, so here are a few tidbits to consider, as well as a few trade partners that make sense, for GM Dell Demps and the Pelicans front office.
How Did We Get Here?
The language from the Davis request that was released by his agent Rich Paul was poignant. He is looking for a team with a "commitment to winning". While such language my seem like wordspeak and the ultimate platitudinal comment, it speaks to his view of the Pelicans. New Orleans is the league's smallest market, with smaller finances coming in from local television deals and ticket revenue. Their playoff series with the Golden State Warriors in years past have been underwhelming in terms of fan support at home and revenue for the organization.
The consequences of such are huge. The Pelicans have needed to be a team that avoids the luxury tax, despite paying a few top-end players high salaries. The result has been a roster that is very top-heavy, with a few high-end players (Davis and Jrue Holiday). They've traditionally over-paid for mid-tier free agents to attract them (Solomon Hill and E'Twaun Moore) and given large extensions to players with Bird rights whom they've needed to keep (Ryan Anderson comes to mind). All of that is commonplace for small market teams.
Where Dell Demps lost me with his vision came in the frequent trading of draft picks and the unwillingness to commit to the returns they gave up. Since Anthony Davis was drafted, only two of their own first-round selections have played a game for the franchise. Those two: Austin Rivers (who played for three seasons) and Buddy Hield (one and a half seasons before being flipped to Sacramento). The Hield involvement in the Cousins trade was incredibly defendable, as the availability to grab a star player was too tantalizing for the organization to pass up.
Such a rationale makes it even more indefensible that Demps allowed Cousins to walk last summer. The questions surrounding his Achilles were well founded, but letting him go for nothing? That's how the Pelicans, who knew trading for Cousins would eventually push them into the tax, backed out of their commitment to winning. They boxed themselves into taking the risk, and when they whiffed, the Davis trade request is the clear consequence.
You won't find anyone more critical of Dell Demps than I am. He's made several questionable trades on their face, and none of them have redeemed him over the long-term. The roster has been squeezed of draft picks, young talent and cheap contracts that make an impact. There's a direct relationship between all three.
The Davis Contract
Anthony Davis is signed until, at least, July of 2020. He's making $25.4 million this season, $27.09 million next year, and a 2020-21 player option for $28.75 million. There is a near-zero chance that Davis accepts his player option, as the cap spike expected between now and July 2020 would mean he has no reason to take the pay hit by opting in.
Any team that trades for Davis gets him for at least a season, and if he's dealt by the deadline, at least a season and a half. Furthermore, they only have to match $22.89 million (teams can take on 110% of outgoing salary in a trade, and Davis' contract is 110% of $22.89 mill). For a superstar deal, that can be a fickle number to match, pairing both salary and talent.
The Rose Rule and Boston
For years we have been hearing about the potential of an Anthony Davis-to-Boston rumor. The Celtics clearly have to be interested. Their recently-acquired group of stars is underwhelming a tad, and Davis is one of the four best players in the world. He's still young and entering his prime. A Davis and Irving tandem, along with some of their younger assets, is going to vault the Celtics into high territory.
As has been discussed and now most of the public audience is educated on, the Celtics cannot trade for Davis until July at the earliest. The reason? Both Davis and Kyrie have signed rookie max extensions with their team under what is known as The Rose Rule, a quirk added to the CBA in 2011 that allows teams to pay their top stars that earn accolades while on their rookie contracts greater sums of money.
The caveat: a team can only have one player signed under such a deal on their roster at a time. Because Irving was signed to that extension, the Celtics are disqualified from trading for Davis until Irving is on a new contract. At earliest, that would be July.
New Orleans: Timeline and What's At Stake
The Pelicans, being the small-market team we discussed before, have a lot on the line when it comes to Davis. If he leaves and the franchise goes into the toilet in terms of wins and losses and marketability, they are facing relocation as a very serious possibility. The league is pressuring for a return to Seattle, and with a new arena seemingly a reality in the great Northwest, it might be a matter of time before that becomes a reality.
Such a huge decision cannot be made within ten days. Certainly the organization has been preparing for this nuclear blow-up just in case it came to fruition. They aren't going into the trade deadline completely in the dark. The timeline is the important part to remember here for such a consequential decision.
What rush do the Pelicans have to make a deal? Davis is still under contract for next season. They can wait to July without losing leverage, and have a cleaner slate on the market. More buyers, more facilitators, more money to spread around. Boston is a possibility, and clarity around draft picks comes to fruition. What is the rush here?
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).