By now you’ve heard all the NBA chatter: Anthony Davis has informed the New Orleans Pelicans that he does not intend to re-sign with the team and has requested a trade. The Pelicans are fast falling out of the West playoff picture, and have largely wasted one of the NBA’s premiere talents for the entirety of his career to date, so it’s not an absurd request. The timing is a bit suspect though — as LeBron James hovers outside the frame waiting for his Lakers to reload with talent so he can make a few more spirited runs at an NBA Title.
But that’s none of our business! The reason why we’re here is to discuss the Raptors and their presumptive move to get into the Anthony Davis trade market. While the teams most often linked to a Davis deal, namely the Lakers (and I guess the Clippers?) and the Celtics have their assets and cache and whatnot to work with, the Raptors have a little juice too. It may sound like an impossible dream, but also:
What team will Anthony Davis team play for on Feb 8, 2019?— MyBookie Sportsbook (@betmybookie) January 28, 2019
New Orleans -200
LA Lakers +600
LA Clippers +700
Oklahoma City +1200
Any Other Team +300https://t.co/baVg4On1Od
I mean, we should at least talk about it, am I right?
Should the Raptors Deal for Davis?
I hesitate to veer too hard into hyperbole here, but what the hell: Anthony Davis is obviously a top five player in the NBA. He’s 25 years old, just coming into his athletic prime, listed at 6’10” and 253 pounds, and currently posting averages of 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 2.6 blocks, and a shooting line of 51%/33%/81%. Other than injury concerns, which have cost Davis between 10-20 games a season for his career, it’s exceedingly difficult to spot any holes in his game.
What’s more: Davis has been posting these ungodly numbers while playing for a stream of over-matched (but, sure, beloved) coaches, and with a cast of players we could only charitably describe as ramshackle. For Davis’ formal breakout year in his sophomore season, three of the top four 2013-14 Pelicans in terms of games played were Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Morrow, and somebody named Brian Roberts. In the five years since, the situation has “improved” to include Jrue Holiday (a legit good player) and Julius Randle, plus, uh, Darius Miller and E’Twaun Moore. Not much has changed, is my point, and Davis’ extreme efforts have only managed to get his squad to the playoffs twice — securing one surprise win in 2018.
In the right situation, one in which he would not have to carry the entire load himself, it’s easy to see how Davis would flourish even more. In terms of the modern NBA, there’s nothing he can’t do to help a team win. As a pick-and-roller, Davis can finish any kind of shot at the rim (where he’s currently shooting 75 percent). As a pick-and-pop man, Davis is solidly above 40 percent. And as noted, he can step out and shoot the three when required, putting up between 1.8 and 3.0 attempts per game over the past four seasons and averaging 30-34 percent from deep. All of his other offensive numbers have also continued on this steady upward trend. On defense, meanwhile, Davis is a terror with long arms, quick feet, insane hops, and the ability to recover ground fast. He’s been averaging over two blocks a game for almost his entire career. This year, the Pelicans’ net rating swings by 7.7 points when Davis is on the court versus when he’s off it. To say they were ever playoff contenders in the West is to admit Davis’ talents are superhuman.
The case here for the Raptors is easy enough to make. They want to win an NBA title and have approximately one player (Kawhi Leonard) with the proven skills to do it. The teams Toronto will be going up against — namely, the Warriors — have sometimes two or three (or four?) of those types of players. The math could end right there — and that’s before considering that if Kawhi leaves after next season, the championship window for the Raptors shuts hard. A Raptors team built this season around Kawhi, AD, and Kyle Lowry could absolutely compete for and win an NBA title, especially one that boasts a couple of complementary players like Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka. If everything after that celebratory outcome fell apart, well, I think most of us would live with that.
Before we get into transactions: it’s worth noting that Davis is signed through to the 2019-2020 season. (He has a player option for 2020-21, but we can safely assume Davis would opt of that to re-negotiate whatever situation he found himself in by then.) If the Raptors and Pelicans did pull the trigger on a deal right now, Toronto would have Davis for this run with Kawhi, and then another season to try and muster one last charge (with or without Kawhi). And if they opted to trade him much like the Pelicans are now, they could reload their own coffers with assets and such while sitting on at least one huge expiring deal in Lowry. Not a bad situation, all things considered.
The Price for Davis
Ah, but of course it would cost a lot to get Davis to Toronto. In fact, it would likely cost more than the Raptors actually have. Davis is, as mentioned, one of the best players in the league, and he’s on the book to make between $25 and $27 million for this season and the next. The two major things needed therefore in any Davis trade are, first, salary weight, and second, appreciating assets. The Raptors have a decent amount of the former, and not enough of the latter. But nevertheless, we continue.
For the Raptors, any Davis trade has to involve one of either Jonas Valanciunas or Serge Ibaka, for salary-matching purposes, but also for likely roster balance. If I’m the Pelicans, I’d probably want to take on JV, given that they’re currently tumbling out of the playoff picture and in need of younger players, not older ones. Valanciunas is up for $16 million this season, and has a player option for $17 million the next, so that sets the Pelicans up fairly nicely in that regard. (Serge makes more money, and has one more year on his deal, period.)
For more balancing, it’s not out of line to suggest through any combination of C.J. Miles, Greg Monroe, or Malachi Richardson in their either. If the target is Davis, you dump in who you have to include to make the salary matching work. If anything, this is the easy part. The second part is when it gets tougher — and more emotionally exhausting.
The gem of any Raptors superstar trade would have to include Pascal Siakam. There’s just no way around this calculus. Siakam is clearly the only player of the Raptors’ cadre of young guns with a still appreciable upside, one that outstrips his current salary, and puts him firmly in the Most Improved Player (and All-Star) discussion. There is no doubt that the first name the Pelicans would seek to include would be Siakam. But then of course, that’s not the only name they’d want to include. For the Raptors to really move the needle in a deal like this, there’s no doubt that Delon Wright or OG Anunoby would have to be on the table too. And then we’re talking about the inclusion of a draft pick, one that could be of a higher value (e.g. after 2020) when the Raptors may suddenly be way outside the playoff picture. That’s the risk in taking such a swing.
Figuring out the moving parts to this is difficult. The Pelicans would likely have to include an additional player to make the shifts on both rosters make sense, and there are a lot of variables with regards to which exact players would be requested. But I think a bottom line of Valanciunas, Siakam, Wright, and a first round pick is how the Raptors even get a call with New Orleans. It’s a lot, but we’re also talking about Anthony Davis.
If the Raptors can make this deal and somehow head into the playoffs with a core group of Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Serge Ibaka, well they have to do it. There’s emotional attachment to Siakam, and OG, and Wright, and (perhaps especially) Jonas — but none of those players on their own (or even in combination) will unlock Toronto’s championship potential. Davis does.
It’s instructive to remember the mood heading into last July. It was pretty grim. The thinking was that the group of players the team had at the time had reached their absolute apex, and no amount of internal growth was going to take them any higher. Then the DeRozan-Kawhi trade, then perhaps a new ceiling, then a reshuffling of priorities. The title window in Toronto is now set to close in as short as one year. Hell, it could actually close in six months.
It remains distinctly possible (and probable) that the Pelicans will not trade Davis in the next week. It is also entirely probable that the Raptors’ package of players and assets is not enough to make the move happen now, or come the off-season. Lightning doesn’t tend to strike the same spot twice — but there exists the possibility for Toronto anyway.