Our experts answer the big questions for New Orleans and potential suitors heading into the 2019 NBA trade deadline on Feb. 7.
1. What should the Pelicans do now?
Bobby Marks, ESPN: Sit tight and wait until the offseason. Davis is not on an expiring contract, and the team that has the most assets (Boston) cannot acquire him without trading Kyrie Irving or waiting for the point guard to opt out this offseason. New Orleans GM Dell Demps will need to show restraint and patience at the deadline.
Tim Bontemps, ESPN: What they should’ve been doing this entire time: evaluating offers that come in and seeing if any merit actually moving on from Davis. It’s hard to see a team currently topping what the Celtics can offer this offseason, but if someone chooses to be ultra-aggressive to get Davis now, perhaps the Pelicans will be able to take advantage. It seems far more likely that the right course of action will be to wait until the summer and allow all teams — including Boston — to enter the bidding.
Royce Young, ESPN: Not hurry. There is no reason to overreact to Davis’ request. The Pelicans still hold immense leverage, and still have Davis under contract for another season and a half. The trade offers are already rolling in, and some might be tempting, but they actually could get better this summer. Or there’s the other factor of knowing the draft order and who possesses the No. 1 overall pick (and the opportunity to select Zion Williamson).
Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight: Sit back and wait for the offers to file in from the rest of the league. Just about every team will want in on this conversation, even if not everyone has the necessary assets to make a deal. But New Orleans will turn every team upside down to make sure it’s shaken all the pockets empty. Davis is worth that.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN: Begin talking with interested parties. The assumption that New Orleans would (and perhaps should) wait until this summer was based exclusively on the idea that the Pelicans still had hope, however faint, of convincing Davis to stay. Now that it’s gone, two playoff runs before he hits free agency are more valuable than the one teams would be guaranteed next summer. So New Orleans should see how strong the offers are now, and if there’s an immediate deal that tops what Boston would be able to offer in July.
2. What should the Lakers do now?
Herring: Be prepared to offer most of its young core in a deal to vastly speed up the club’s timeline for winning big. The challenge here for the Lakers is that none of their most highly touted youngsters (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma) have taken a big step forward this season. Ivica Zubac has shown some real promise, but it’s no longer a sure thing that those Lakers players alone would be the best return the Pelicans could get.
Marks: Offer everyone not named LeBron James. The Lakers have now until Feb. 7 to get a deal done. If they don’t, it’s much more likely that Davis will be in a Celtics uniform next season. However, there is no incentive for the Pelicans to get a deal done in the next two weeks, knowing that Boston has the best offer to make in July.
Bontemps: Offer every single asset they have to New Orleans and hope it’s enough. And by every single one, I truly mean every one. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, Ivica Zubac, multiple first-round picks — any combination shouldn’t stop the Lakers from pairing Davis with LeBron James. Part of the reason that’s the case, though, is that it’s hard to see it being enough to get the job done. While those young guys have varying degrees of potential, there likely isn’t an All-Star among them — and it’s hard to see how New Orleans would be able to sell a package without an All-Star to its fan base.
Young: Put it all on the table. All of it. Offer Magic Johnson’s statue and four letters from the Hollywood sign if you have to. LeBron James is 34, and the window of opportunity is closing. Pairing Davis with LeBron makes you good now, and oh by the way, Davis is only 25. It’s not like this is trading for a 31-year-old. Davis can transition to your cornerstone as LeBron ages. Plus, you’re the Lakers. It’s not as if losing young players means you’re resetting for a decadelong rebuild. Players want to play for you and free agency is always a future plan to fall back on.
Pelton: Not go crazy with their offer. The Lakers have to weigh the possibility of adding Davis against both the production they’d get from the young players and picks they give up and the free agent they’d be forgoing next summer. Although the Lakers are far from guaranteed to sign a star, that’s still a lot of alternative cost. Trading three or more of their developing players for Davis could make it difficult to ever build depth around him and LeBron.
3. What should the Celtics do now?
Young: Repeat to the Pelicans over and over again how the offers are only going to get better if they wait. Fly one of those prop planes with a banner over the city every day. Assuming they want to pair Irving with Davis — which it would seem wise to do — the Celtics have to sit and hope the Pelicans don’t get an offer at this deadline they can’t resist. But once July 1 comes, then you can put the most enticing package on the table.
Marks: Nothing. The Celtics will still have the right mix of draft assets, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward to get a deal done in July. The only downside is that free agents Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris would be off the table in any deal.
Bontemps: The same thing they were doing yesterday: Wait and see if Davis is a Pelican on Feb. 8. If he is, the Celtics are the most likely team to acquire him. Assuming New Orleans is willing to wait, the Celtics can offer more in young players (Tatum and Brown) and draft assets (all of their own future picks, plus protected first-rounders from the Kings, Grizzlies and Clippers that all can potentially convey this season) than any other team.
Pelton: Convince the Pelicans they’re willing to deal Tatum as part of an AD package this summer, whether that’s true or not. A Boston offer including Tatum probably trumps anything else New Orleans could realistically get, so the Celtics have a real chance of delaying the bidding with that position. I’d consider a deal built around Kyrie Irving before the deadline, but only as a last resort.
Herring: Hope and pray that the Pelicans are willing to be patient, and simply wait to make a deal until this summer. That might allow them to be involved without having to deal Kyrie Irving away, which would be a rather drastic step, given all the assets Boston possesses.
4. What should the Knicks do now?
Pelton: Offer Kristaps Porzingis. A Davis deal taking place now probably helps New York more than any other team, given a sign-and-trade involving Porzingis would be difficult to facilitate this summer. Given Porzingis’ coming new contract and questions about how he’ll be hampered coming off ACL surgery, I’d be comfortable making him the center of a Davis offer.
Herring: Quietly gauge what the Pelicans are most interested in, between the Knicks’ first-round pick this year and Kristaps Porzingis. New York could end up with the No. 1 pick, though we won’t know the draft order until May. Porzingis could be enticing to the Pelicans, but New Orleans may want some sort of long-term commitment from him, given his restricted free agent status. The Knicks’ package would come with uncomfortable contingencies, but it could yield the biggest immediate prize.
Young: Hope the lottery balls bounce your way and if they do, decide if you want Zion or AD. Because offering the No. 1 pick to the Pelicans is a very intriguing offer, and one New Orleans may not be able to resist. There’s chatter Davis would be excited to play in New York, and landing him could open doors to other stars (Kevin Durant), but there aren’t many intriguing options to deal unless their pick becomes extremely valuable.
Marks: Be content with rebuilding. There is no incentive for the Knicks to get in on the Davis sweepstakes unless they are foolish enough to offer an unprotected 2019 first-round pick, which of course could end up being Zion Williamson. New York is years away from contending, and without a handshake agreement with Davis that he will commit long term, the Knicks would be better not doing anything.
Bontemps: The Knicks desperately want to get a star this summer, and they are viewed by many around the league as having a strong shot at landing Kevin Durant as a free agent. They would certainly help their cause by getting Davis now. But the problem is that the Knicks already have to make room to get Durant — and that math gets far more complicated if they trade for Davis. Doing so would also include shipping out Porzingis. There’s no question Davis is a generational talent, but emptying the cupboard now doesn’t make sense, unless it assures New York the ability to also land at least another big piece in July.
5. What should the 76ers do now?
Bontemps: And now we come to the single most intriguing potential Anthony Davis trade on the board: AD to the Sixers for Ben Simmons. The one thing that could potentially surpass Boston’s offers down the road would be if Philadelphia truly chose to go all-in with its current group by pairing Davis with Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler. Simmons, meanwhile, would be the kind of high-upside young star that could give New Orleans an anchor to build around in a post-Davis future. It’s hard to see Philadelphia being willing to make that kind of deal today after trading for Butler two months ago — and the Sixers may never be willing to make it. But Simmons is likely the best possible piece in play for Davis, which will keep the idea alive until the moment Davis is actually moved.
Herring: Stand pat. Davis is unbelievably talented, but since you have an All-Star big in Joel Embiid and a young forward who looks like a perennial all-star in Ben Simmons, I don’t think there’s a need to shake things up again so quickly after having made the Jimmy Butler deal. I think it makes more sense to see where that leads you than it does to pair the two bigs together.
Marks: Tell GM Dell Demps that everyone is available except for Embiid. The 76ers have clearly shown they are in win-now mode. The hard part is making the finances work. Philadelphia would have to offer a package of Ben Simmons, Wilson Chandler, Markelle Fultz, their own pick this season and the 2021 Miami first-rounder to gain any interest from the Pelicans.
Young: It’s an option to offer Ben Simmons, and that’s something the Pelicans would have to strongly consider, especially with the LSU connection to Louisiana. But the Sixers are very good and already working through the issues of adding a volatile star player midseason. My general approach to any team in the “Should they trade for Anthony Davis?” question is to emphatically say yes, so that seems like a smart play by the Sixers, but it could be a little more complicated for them.
Pelton: Probably nothing. The Sixers have already accelerated their timetable more than I’d prefer by dealing for Jimmy Butler, and trading (presumably) Ben Simmons for Davis without any assurance he’ll re-sign would offer too much risk that the process would yield just two years of legitimate contention. I guess that means the real answer is ask Davis’ agent Rich Paul how interested Davis is in Philadelphia, but that would be tampering and teams would never, ever do that.
Bonus: Is there a scenario in your view not involving these five destinations?
Bontemps: One dark horse team has already proved willing to make such a trade and is well positioned to go for it: the Toronto Raptors. Masai Ujiri is never afraid to swing for the fences, and a combination of Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis could potentially make the Raptors good enough to win the title this season. A deal led by Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby (along with Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas) would at least have to make New Orleans think. It would make Toronto the prohibitive favorite to make the NBA Finals and good enough to go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors. It would be a risky move, but Ujiri likes to take risks, and it’s hard to argue this wouldn’t be one worth taking.
Pelton: Denver is probably the other team that has the best chance of making an offer that could tempt the Pelicans based on my expectation they’ll desire young contributors under team control like Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. But I don’t think it makes sense for a team playing so well to take such a big gamble. And that goes double for teams with young stars on rookie contracts who wouldn’t be assured of re-signing Davis.
Young: Lots of them, actually. Basically any fringe Eastern Conference playoff contender should be in the mix. If you’re the Wizards, do you offer Bradley Beal? If you’re the Hornets, what about offering Miles Bridges, Malik Monk and Cody Zeller? If you’re the Heat, there are quality, high-salary players that you can offer. With the decks cleared in the East for the first time in basically a decade, adding Anthony Davis to a decent roster could elevate you to making a run at the Finals. Shoot your shot.
Marks: No. Because of the uncertainty that Davis would commit long term, it’s hard to be believe that a team other than the Celtics or Lakers would be willing to risk assets and players. It is certainly understandable to make the argument that Oklahoma City took a chance with Paul George and the Raptors with Kawhi Leonard, but teams interested in acquiring Davis would have to gut their roster. Davis has prioritized going to a winning franchise, not one where he will have to do all the heavy lifting.
Herring: The Bulls could likely offer the same sort of package as the Knicks by sending over their first-round pick while also giving the Pelicans their choice of players on Chicago’s young roster. No one is nearly as enticing as Porzingis, but Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. both have real talent, and look like they’ll be solid for years to come. But the biggest potential payoff would be that pick becoming the No. 1 overall selection.