Moore: Why the Pelicans Must Wait Until This Summer to Trade Anthony Davis

Moore: Why the Pelicans Must Wait Until This Summer to Trade Anthony Davis article feature image
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Photo credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Anthony Davis

  • On Monday morning, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Pelicans star Anthony Davis will not re-sign with the team and wants a trade.
  • The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 7, and below I lay out all the reasons why the Pelicans should wait to make a move until next summer.

Well, Happy New Year, Pelicans fans. Looks like Rich Paul’s resolution was to screw you over.

The agent for LeBron James and Anthony Davis informed the Pelicans on Friday that Davis will not re-sign as a free agent and formally requested a trade. Paul then shared that information with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported it Monday morning.

The Davis Chase is on.

(The Brow Down? The Brow-sing? We need a nickname.)

So now that Paul has officially ruined their leverage by leaking this information, hurting the Pelicans in every trade negotiation they can have, the question becomes what should New Orleans do, besides pour themselves a good stiff drink?

Let’s start right here: The Pelicans can’t trade Anthony Davis to the Boston Celtics until this summer.

There’s a stipulation in the CBA called the “Rose Rule,” which says you can’t acquire two players at a certain level of contract. The Celtics already have Kyrie Irving on one. So they are unable to trade for Davis… until July 1.

Which is why, if the Pelican have any sense whatsoever, this deal shouldn’t happen until July 1, unless they get an absolutely can’t-miss offer. I’m talking “a top-five player in the NBA” offer, which obviously isn’t happening.

Let’s go over the reasons to wait.


OH DANNY BOY

Rule No. 1 in the NBA: Don’t trade with Danny Ainge.

Ainge took four great picks from the Brooklyn Nets and set them back a decade.

He dealt a top-five MVP candidate in Isaiah Thomas and a first-round pick (along with Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic) and still managed to get the absolute best of the deal. Thomas and Crowder aren’t even in Cleveland anymore.

He traded Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green, and then flipped him for a first-round pick, which he may wind up using to acquire… Anthony Davis.

He managed to trade for Kevin Garnett without having to give up Rajon Rondo, for crying out loud.

And yet, you have to wait for Ainge.

As of now, obviously the biggest suitor for Davis is the Lakers. Their best offer would be all four young players — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart — and that won’t be the starting offer.

To get the kind of offers the Pelicans want on the board, they need the Celtics. Boston doesn’t even need to include Jayson Tatum.

Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Terry Rozier, the Memphis pick, the Clippers’ first-round pick they own and their own pick gives the Pelicans a bevy of stuff without even really hitting the Celtics’ depth all that badly.

The Celtics will trump almost any offer that comes in the next 10 days just out of sheer availability.

boston celtics forward jayson tatum 2019
Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jayson Tatum

Then there’s Tatum.

The presumption is that Tatum will be 100 percent off-limits — a reasonable expectation given the ceiling he tapped in last year’s playoffs.

But three things to keep in mind:

  • Tatum hasn’t been brilliant this year. He’s been good, really good, borderline great. But not lights-out. He’s not what many expected. The “future MVP” buzz is miserably low right now.
  • The Celtics have had specific issues with their younger players. Kyrie Irving, in particular, has had issues with the young guys and called them out routinely. Rozier is pretty clearly the biggest target there, but I don’t know that Tatum isn’t included in that criticism.
  • Ainge is notoriously tough to deal with. “It’s like pulling teeth” is how multiple executives have described it to me. But he goes all-in when he wants a superstar he thinks is worth it. The Kyrie deal worked out for him, but at the time he was dealing a fan-favorite MVP candidate. Yet he did it without reservation because he knew the value. If he knows the only way to beat the Warriors is to get AD next to Kyrie, which helps keep Kyrie… that may be what gets him to the table with a real offer.

But it’s not about what Boston can offer. It’s about what Boston can do to raise the other offers.

If you’re the Pelicans, you need to regain leverage. Using Boston’s insane cadre of assets against the other bidders is their best bet.


THE BEAT GOES ZION

The Celtics get the Kings pick if it’s not No. 1, in which case it’s Philly’s.

The only player the Pelicans could conceivably get to replace Davis and save their franchise? Zion Williamson.

A few possibilities that are available only after the lottery:

  • The Kings miss the playoffs, miraculously land the No. 1 pick despite terrible odds and the Sixers trade it and whoever (Ben Simmons? That’s probably too much) for Davis.
  • The Kings miss the playoffs, miraculously land the No. 2 pick and the Celtics can include that in their deal, along with the Grizzlies pick (if not top-eight) and their own, along with Al Horford and (insert young guy here) and not have to give up anything crucial.
  • The Bulls get the No. 1 pick and trade the farm, banking on the Bulls brand to keep him.
  • The Knicks land the No. 1 pick and trade it along with Courtney Lee/Lance Thomas/whoever and use Davis to lure Kevin Durant from the Warriors.
  • The Wolves or Wizards land the No. 1 pick.

Basically, if anything but the mathematically most-likely scenarios (Atlanta, Phoenix, Cleveland) play out with the lottery, it becomes really interesting.

Which is all the more reason for the Pelicans to wait.


SO WHY NOT WAIT?

In short, because this situation is going to be really hard. You do lose leverage with only a year left.

The teams that are looking for an OKC-Paul George type of trade scenario, hoping to get a full 18 months to sell him on re-signing, take on more risk with only a season.

You get from camp in September through May when your season ends (most likely) to talk him into it. That’s eight months. That vs. 18 months in your system, building relationships, etc. is wildly different.

Davis and Paul will also likely continue to apply pressure. Don’t be shocked if it gets leaked (anonymously this time) that “Davis is unwilling to consider re-signing anywhere except team or teams,” including maybe “only with the Lakers.”

Paul has zero regard for norms and (rightfully) is only looking out for his client and the Klutch brand. As such, if they decide on a path, they will try and bend the Pelicans to that will.

The situation in New Orleans is about to get miserable.

The players will know they’re playing for nothing because Davis wants out. The offices will be downtrodden. Ticket sales are going to flatline for next season.

These decisions impact hundreds of people who don’t make $25 million per year. The people in charge, from ownership down to the front office and coaches, will feel that. Sometimes you just want it to be over with so you can start to move on.

Much of this will rest on ownership, which is currently still trying to figure out a way to get the NFL to call that pass interference penalty against the Rams for the latest flag ever.

Do they want to shed salary? Totally rebuild? Do they want to cut costs to sell the team? Do they want to pursue a star to try and continue to contend with Jrue Holiday? (Note to ownership: Please, please don’t do this.)

The first thing the Pelicans have to do is accept Davis is gone and plot where they want to be in four years. (Hopefully that’s not “selling the team to someone from Seattle.”) Then they can figure out where they want to go. But any long-term plan has to factor in how much better their options will be in three months.

Rich Paul and Davis gave the Pelicans no consideration in dropping this and leaking it 10 days before the deadline. It’s only fair that the Pelicans return the favor and elect to hold off until this summer.

Leverage is everything, and the only way New Orleans can regain some is to wait.