NBA Column: New Orleans’ best Pelican becomes major flight risk

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In this Jan. 12, 2019, file photo New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis plays against the Minnesota Timberwolves in an NBA basketball game in Minneapolis. Davis’ agent says the five-time All-Star has told the New Orleans Pelicans that he wants to be traded to a contending team. Agent Rich Paul confirmed the request to The Associated Press early Monday, Jan. 28. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

New Orleans Pelicans’ star forward Anthony Davis cranked up the heat on the NBA’s hot stove Monday morning when he told his agent Rich Paul from Klutch Sports that he wants out of New Orleans.

The report surfaced when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, “Agent Rich Paul has notified the New Orleans Pelicans that All-NBA forward Anthony Davis has no intention of signing a contract extension if and when presented and that he has requested a trade.”

While Paul’s words aren’t much of a surprise to most people, his tweet definitely makes what was supposed to be a quiet trade deadline a heck of a lot noisier. It isn’t often that an MVP contender like Davis becomes available in the trade market.

Davis’ contract is due to expire at the end of next season, making him an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. Davis wishes to play out the remainder of his contract with another team, and the Pelicans will surely want to get a good return for Davis rather than let him walk for nothing.

The Pelicans find themselves in a similar position to that of the Kings in 2017 when the Kings dealt star center DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans just before the trade deadline. Sacramento was able to assemble a young core around Buddy Hield, whom they acquired from the Pelicans for Cousins, and De’Aaron Fox, whom they drafted fifth overall the year after the trade.

Now that the script has flipped on the Pelicans, they will look to do what the Kings did and trade their star player for some bright young pieces. The only question is, who will be willing to trade their valuable assets away for Davis knowing that he’ll be a free agent in 2020?

When it comes to NBA trade rumors, the best place to look for answers is undoubtedly Woj’s Twitter. Following the tweet I quoted earlier, Wojnarowski tweeted, “Rich Paul to ESPN on a preferred destination for Anthony Davis: ‘Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him the chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.’”

That narrows the list of potential suitors down a bit. Knowing that Davis’ number one concern is playing for a contender, non-contenders will want no part in cashing in their assets for a guy who’s just going to leave in 2020 if the team isn’t winning enough.

The rumor that’s been circulating around the league for the past year or so is that, one way or another, Davis is destined to team up with Lebron James in Los Angeles. These rumors started when Davis signed with Klutch Sports, which was founded by Lebron’s good friend Rich Paul, who is currently the agent for both forwards. Instagram comments showing Davis joking around with James and other Lakers players carried these rumors out further and even prompted the NBA to send a memo to teams warning them of potential tampering with players currently under contract.

The Lakers have plenty of young assets in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, as well as two very tradable expiring contracts in Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers have the means to work out a deal. A trade package involving a combination of these players along with draft picks could be just the return New Orleans is looking for.

“Now it’s all on Magic Johnson. He’s got to find a way to get it done. But he needs the Pelicans’ cooperation. That’s my major concern,” ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said.

Smith voices a valid concern here. The Pelicans might not part with the guy who has been the unibrowed face of their franchise since 2012 that easily. I mean, there is another team out there that might have more valuable assets than the Lakers and a general manager known for his ability to make deals.

Dealin’ Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics are co-front runners with the Lakers in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. While they don’t have all of the juicy rumors that Los Angeles does, they have equally (if not more) impressive assets to offer.

The Celtics have two blue-chip players in Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum that they could build a trade package around for Davis. Irving can opt out of his contract and hit free agency this offseason, so Boston might be interested in getting rid of the stormcloud of uncertainty hanging over Irving’s head (especially after calling the younger players on the team out for not knowing what it takes to win a championship).

The challenge with this rumor is that Irving would be unhappy with a move that takes him to New Orleans. He has no interest in a rebuilding project, and would certainly leave once the season ends. The Pelicans know that and likely wouldn’t have any interest in taking in Irving.

The Celtics could also build an offer around Tatum. This would move Boston’s timeline up a bit, since they’d be losing 20-year-old Tatum to pair the 26-year-old Irving with 25-year-old Davis. They would officially go from the team of the future built to wait out Golden States’ dynasty to the Warriors’ biggest challenger as “the team of the now.”

Staying under the cap would require some magic from Ainge. The Celtics have a lot of money tied up with Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. While Hayward’s contract is completely unmovable, a package surrounding Tatum and Marcus Smart could potentially free up enough cap space to take on Davis until his contract expires along with Horford’s. Keeping Irving and re-signing Davis would be tricky with Hayward’s contract taking up over $30 million through 2021.

The Celtics could put together a solid trade package with their stockpile of draft picks (four first rounders this offseason and three the next) Smart, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown. However, it’s likely that the Pelicans will not listen to any offers from Boston that don’t involve Tatum, but if anyone can get it done, it’s Dealin’ Danny.

The NBA’s two franchises with the richest histories are the frontrunners to get Davis whether it be through a trade or signing him in 2020. Other contenders such as the 76ers, Bucks and Rockets could make offers for Davis as well. If Philadelphia were to put Ben Simmons on the table, we might see one of the most important trades of all time pretty soon.

It might be more likely that Davis doesn’t go to one of the teams that we expect him to. When players request trades, especially to the Lakers, we’ve seen that they can end up anywhere. Cousins requested that he be traded to the Lakers before he was sent to New Orleans. Everyone thought Kawhi Leonard was headed to LA before he was dealt to Toronto. Paul George was supposed to be a Laker before he was traded to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo.

Will Davis be the one to team up with Lebron and take the Lakers over the top? Or will he be the latest on a list of players that were supposed to go to LA, but didn’t? So let’s sit back, relax and turn on push notifications for those Woj bombs to find out.


Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached at sean.janos@uconn.edu.

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