Anthony Davis hears the rumors; he knows they are out there. But, Davis just wants to win basketball games.
Davis sat down with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday and talked about his desire to win a title with the New Orleans Pelicans. However, Wojnarowski managed to bring up that teams, namely, the Boston Celtics “remain vigilant” on the possibility of acquiring the big man via trade.
But would the Pelicans really trade Davis, a generational big and the face of their franchise?
Crazier things have happened before. With fellow big man DeMarcus Cousins set to be a free agent at seasons end and the Pelicans barely able to scrape their way to the eighth seed in the Western Conference, New Orleans may seriously consider moving Davis. And, unless they are willing to move him for pennies on the dollar as the Kings did with Cousins when they shipped him to New Orleans, Boston can likely form one of the better offers, if not the best.
But what would a trade look like, exactly?
A trade of this magnitude would likely occur in the offseason as opposed to at the deadline in February. It’s almost like repeating history for the Celtics, who acquired a certain big-name power forward for a massive haul some eight-odd years ago next summer.
While it could be done without moving him, Al Horford is almost an obvious inclusion in any trade for money reasons. Horford is a perfect fit in Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens’ system that is based on versatility and the ability to move the ball and would be a major loss, but the money has to come off the books somewhere. Horford actually makes more money than Davis over the next two seasons (the remaining life of Horford’s contract beyond this season); just over $59 million to Davis’ $52.5 million.
Now, here comes the real prize for New Orleans. As much as it would hurt Celtics fans, one of either young wings Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, if not both, would have to be included in any scenario where Davis gets sent to Beantown. Superstars are rarely available, and don’t think Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge, also known to many as “Trader Danny,” would hesitate in making the move. If the ultimate goal for a franchise is to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Davis helps the Celtics now more than either Brown or Tatum. Ainge knows that and, while it would certainly be difficult to say goodbye to the upside, he has a history of making gut-wrenching decisions for the betterment of the franchise.
New Orleans would also receive the rights to the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers’ first round draft selection (if it falls between the second and fifth spot in the draft order) or the better of the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers 2019 selections (provided one of them isn’t first overall), which the Celtics acquired in a pick-swap with the 76ers last offseason. Another throw-in of either Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier or more picks certainly wouldn’t be out of the question either.
In return for all that, the Celtics get their superstar in Davis. Ainge probably swipes E’Twaun Moore, who is having a career year from beyond the arc, as well in order to recoup some of the scoring depth lost. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a second rounder heading back to Boston either; everyone knows how much Ainge loves those draft assets!
Davis. Kyrie Irving. Gordon Hayward. It is as simple as that for Ainge and the Celtics; three superstars alongside Stevens’ coaching genius to propel the team into the NBA stratosphere. If those three can’t get the job done against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, it’s hard to see anyone unseating the reigning champs. At the very least, the Celtics become a Finals favorite and would instantly become a top-two team in the NBA.
The Horford-Irving tandem has been great for the Celtics, but you would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks a swap of Horford for Davis wouldn’t be a massive upgrade for both Irving and the team. While he’s not the shooter that Horford is, Davis is a better overall scorer, rebounder, shot blocker and is about seven years younger. By no means is this a slight against Horford; the veteran big man is good in almost every facet of the game and is having a career year. However, in most cases, where Horford is good, Davis is great. Irving and Hayward would also represent the greatest amount of talent to surround Davis since entering the league back in 2012, further maximizing his talents and their own.
For the Pelicans, things are a little more complicated, and a lot more long-term. With Davis gone from New Orleans, Cousins likely walks in an effort to avoid a rebuild that he didn’t sign up for (if he isn’t moved by the trade deadline, anyway, and if New Orleans isn’t able to get him re-signed before a Davis move). Even with Horford and whomever else coming into the fold, the Pelicans would be down the road to a long rebuild.
Eventually, Horford would become eligible to be moved again and would likely be flipped to a team that feels it’s nearing contender status for more assets. From there, it’s on Brown and/or Tatum, alongside the potential draft pick from the 2018 or 2019 NBA Draft and whatever additional assets acquired along the way, to improve to the point where they can get the Pelicans back into the playoff picture. Both Brown and Tatum have flashed some of their extremely high upsides and, at this point, it doesn’t seem like a matter of if they would be able to reach them, but how long it would take them to do so. Rebuilds can take years and are not always successful. Just look at the Kings, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns; three teams that have been stuck in neutral for years, rebuilding in what feels like perpetuity. But young wings like Brown and/or Tatum combined with more top picks down the line is as good a start as any.
Even with Davis, New Orleans has been on the wrong end of the Western Conference for too long. So, while it is certainly unlikely, it’s not impossible that the Pelicans at the very least will listen to offers on the superstar big man. When maximizing their best asset could mean moving that asset off the roster, at what point do the Pelicans just cut their losses and start anew?
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