Anthony Davis held the NBA news cycle hostage for weeks when he requested a trade from the Pelicans at the end of January. Davis was coming off the first playoff series victory of his career the previous season, but the future suddenly wasn’t looking all that bright in New Orleans. DeMarcus Cousins was gone, the infrastructure around the franchise was in shambles, and the team had gotten off to a sub-.500 start.
Davis had hired Klutch Sports, the agency of LeBron James’ close friend Rich Paul, at the onset of the season. The trade request with a year and a half remaining on his deal was seen as a transparent attempt to join James in LA. What followed was weeks of media leaks of a back-and-forth between the Pelicans and Lakers that was never headed anywhere. New Orleans declined even as the Lakers reportedly offered every talented young player on the roster for Davis.
Davis would play sparingly for the Pelicans for the rest of the season, even wearing a t-shirt that said “That’s All Folks” after their final game. It was certain that he would change teams this summer, just another gargantuan variable in what’s shaping up to the wildest NBA offseason ever. The Pelicans were incentivized to wait to see who landed the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery before re-engaging with offers for Davis.
As it turns out, the Pelicans won the lottery themselves, using a six percent chance to move up from moving up from No. 6 to the top overall pick. That means the rights to Zion Williamson and the arrival of a new superstar in the Big Easy.
Davis reportedly still wants to be traded, something he communicated to the Pelicans after the lottery win.
But should he? If Anthony Davis’ top priority is basketball, he won’t find a better situation now than New Orleans.
Zion Williamson is ready to be a star right away
While even the best one-and-done freshmen have needed a year or two to find their footing in the NBA, Williamson looks like the exception to the rule.
Williamson is going to be productive immediately in the NBA. His game revolves heavily on his unprecedented explosiveness, and the start of his career is when he’s going to be at his peak athletically. The incredible motor he showcased at Duke is going to translate right away, as will his rare finishing ability, transition scoring, defensive versatility, rebounding, and general nose for the ball.
There are parts of Williamson’s game that still need to develop — namely his shooting and ball handling — but his total package of skills will allow him to have a huge impact on winning from the day he enters the league.
The Pelicans suddenly look formidable
Davis and Williamson would form the ultimate modern front court. No defense on Earth would be prepared to stop a big-big pick-and-roll between Williamson and Davis on a spread court, no matter who screens and who handles. Davis has also been steadily improving as a pick-and-pop three-point shooter, which would allow more room for Williamson’s drives to the rim. The athleticism, agility, shot blocking, and finishing of this pairing would be unmatched.
Jrue Holiday is a hell of a third star. The 28-year-old can play on- or off-the-ball as a big guard with defensive versatility, three-point shooting range, and ability to attack the defense off the dribble. All New Orleans has to do is put two quality role-playing wings around them (they already have one in E’Twaun Moore) and they have a makings of a killer starting five.
New Orleans has overhauled its front office
The decision making process for the Pelicans has been clouded in mystery for much of Davis’ tenure with the team. Longtime controlling owner Tom Benson often defaulted to Mickey Loomis, who is also the GM of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, before he passed away and handed the team to his wife, Gayle Benson. Dell Demps officially held the GM title for the Pelicans, but he was fired after the trade deadline passed in February at the height of speculation about Davis’ future.
There is no question who is calling the shots for the Pelicans at this point: Gayle Benson hired former Cavaliers GM David Griffin to lead basketball operations in April. Finally, New Orleans has a clear direction in the front office.
Griffin built the Cavs teams that LeBron James would lead the NBA Finals four straight years during his second stint with the franchise. Not only is he considered one of the brightest minds in the game, he also has experience building around unique superstar talents.
One of Griffin’s first moves was to bring in Aaron Nelson, the esteemed trainer of the Phoenix Suns. Under Nelson, the Suns’ training staff gained league-wide acclaim for preventing injuries and helping their players stave off decline late in their careers. For a player like Davis who has dealt with so many injuries over the court of his career, the arrival of Nelson is yet another reason to trust his career to the Pelicans.
The Pelicans were not a well-run franchise for Davis’ first seven years with the franchise, but there are many indications that’s about to change.
Davis’ other options on the trade market don’t look all that appealing
Are the Lakers really a better option than the Pelicans? Los Angles is now the team with a front office in shambles, and LeBron James is going to turn 35 years old this season. If the Lakers trade Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma for Davis, will the supporting cast around he and James really be good enough to compete in the Western Conference? Can Davis really trust the Lakers’ brain trust to get the most out of his post-LeBron career?
The Celtics are also in a tough spot. Boston can offer Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown in a package for Davis, but what if Kyrie Irving leaves in free agency anyway? Suddenly Boston would be devoid of its best young talent and wouldn’t seem like a great place for an extension without Irving.
The Knicks are another potential destination clouded in uncertainty. New York is the presumed front-runner for Kevin Durant in free agency, and could land another star like Kyrie Irving. While New York is armed with the No. 3 pick in the draft, the roster doesn’t have many complementary role players. The franchise also has a long-standing history of dysfunction. Going to the Knicks always sounds better in theory than it works in practice.
Other teams can and will enter the mix, but Davis needs to seriously consider whether any of them offers a better basketball situation than New Orleans.
Davis is 26 years old right now and the next contract that he signs will be the most important of his career. After only one playoff series win to this point, he needs to find the place that gives him the best chance to win not only next year but for the rest of his prime. As LeBron is declining, Zion will be ascending.
After the events of the lottery, why isn’t that place New Orleans? Davis is not going to find a better teammate than Williamson for the next five years, the front office seems stable for the first time ever, and New Orleans can also give him the most money.
Now that the Pelicans suddenly look like a competent franchise under new management, he should seriously reconsider staying.