Anthony Davis Requested a Trade. What’s Next?

It didn’t take long for NBA Twitter to catch fire when news came that Anthony Davis was not intending to re-sign with the Pelicans, and was requesting a trade out of New Orleans. As the internet exploded with memes and speculation about his destination, one aspect of the story stood out to me. The Brow wants to win titles. This makes the trade speculation a lot more interesting, as it puts an unusual constraint on his potential landing spots.

This is not to say, of course, that this isn’t typical of stars that demand trades, but rather it’s abnormal in the sense that AD has made clear that winning championships is what matters, not money.

With that in mind, I began to wonder what other teams might be interested in taking a gamble on AD, specifically teams that haven’t already received a lot of attention as potential trade partners for New Orleans. For one thing, the Lakers could get outbid pretty easily, despite their more agressive interest in the trade. Another problem with the usual suspects is Boston, who can’t make a trade until Kyrie Irving is on a new contract (or is involved in the deal, which is also unlikely).

So unless the Lakers clear house, or the Celtics turn this into a waiting game, there are definitely other teams worth exploring as landing spots for AD. There are some important things to keep in mind when thinking this through, however. First, the path to a title, both now and in the immediate future, is easier in the East. Second, teams must be in need of AD’s services, both positionally and skill-wise, to really be interested in making a move here. Third and finally, do these teams have the resources to get this trade done? I can think of a few, but some are far more likely than others.

The Toronto Case

The first team that came to mind as a dark-horse trade destination for AD was the Toronto Raptors. First of all, the team has depth at center, but no absolute killer out there. Unlike Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and some others that fit the bill, Toronto could certainly benefit from having Anthony Davis both short and long-term. Would Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby, and a pick get the deal done? Would Toronto be comfortable with that? Serge Ibaka is an interesting candidate, but his salary makes him harder to move and/or balance with New Orleans, and as a home-grown guy, I’d rather keep JV if I could.

If I were New Orleans, I would certainly be trying to get Pascal Siakam in the deal, but he has proven so valuable as a role player this year that I doubt Toronto would be super interested in moving him. With that said, a starting 5 of Lowry, Green, Leonard, Siakam, and AD would be one hell of a team on both ends of the court. Not to mention having such strong presences off the bench like Fred Van Vleet, Ibaka or Valanciunas assuming one doesn’t end up in the trade, and other competent role players to back them up, this sounds like a title team to me.

Not only would they be instantly a defensive bastion, but the on-court fit is better than you would probably expect as well. Kawhi and Danny Green are both efficient floor-spacers, Kyle Lowry is an assist machine, and Pascal Siakam can do more or less whatever you need at the 4. If I were AD, I’d be thrilled at this. No player on this team has an ego, it would be very easy to come in and be instantly embraced by the city and team, and that team could win a title this year and down the line as well.

The one downside to this for the Raptors is potentially disrupting the home-grown talent and culture guys that they have. But with a player like AD, I think that’s a chance you take.

The Portland Case

Another team that interested me in this thought process was Portland. They’ve been overdue to shake things up for a while, and they are a team that really is just one player away from being a contender, even in the West. The Trailblazers could try to move CJ McCollum, who for all of his struggles this year is definitely a player of value. He’s not enough to get the deal done straight up though, despite their near identical salaries.

Nurkic is also an interesting asset, and trading a center for a center would make the position fit easier, as well. It would be tough for Portland to get this deal done without digging into their depth a bit, but their depth isn’t going to push them above the 4th seed at best this year.

It’s been time for this team to try and push their ceiling up, and this would certainly be a good way to do it. AD is a top 5 player on both ends of the court, and with floor spacing that Damian Lillard and the other powerhouse shooters like Seth Curry and Meyers Leonard provide, AD would have all the room in the world to work down low. A starting 5 involving Dame, Aminu, AD, and players to fill in the gaps off the bench like Curry, Turner, Leonard, and Collins, I could see this rotation of guys making a strong run this post-season. The problem would be filling in the gaps at SG and SF, depending on who is involved in the trade, and what Portland gets back. Regardless, this team is well-suited to take in AD and instantly become a contender.

The Clippers Case

This final one is easily one of the least likely, as the Clippers have made clear their interest in Kawhi Leonard this off-season. However, they are easily capable of making moves that would open up two max slots in their cap room, and part of that could be made possible through an AD trade. Although Davis has stated money isn’t important, I can’t imagine playing in LA isn’t at least slightly alluring. Plus, he gets to do it without all of the drama and sacrifice that involves playing with LeBron and for the Lakers in general.

That is all an aside, though. The real question is, how much depth does LA have to cough up in order to get this deal done? The easy part is matching salary. They have plenty of players of varying skill levels on various size deals, all or most of whom are perfectly fair value. Would NOP be interested in Montrezl Harrell, Danilo Gallinari, and some picks? As cruel as it would be to make Tobias Harris move again, he is also an undoubtedly valuable piece on a very solid contract. Getting Gallinari off the books makes more sense, however, as it alleviates more cap room as well as providing a very convenient opening at small forward for one, say, Kawhi Leonard.

As young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continue to improve, this starting 5 would only increase their ceiling even after adding two top 5 players in their prime. SGA, Lou Williams, Kawhi, Harris, and AD would be one heck of a lineup with plenty of upside and room for improvement. The best part of the Clippers is they have so many functional and valuable players, but none that are irreplaceable. This is a well-coached, consistent, and professional team that would be a prime landing spot for any marquis talent, but it would specifically would be a great spot for AD given LAC’s future plans and current situation.

The Conclusion

While I think it’s fun to imagine AD in green or yellow (actually now that I think about it, that’s the least fun thing I could do) there are certainly other interesting options that not only fit the bill for AD to go there, but also have interesting options as a return for New Orleans. If I were the Pelicans, there are certainly players I’d value on the teams I mentioned above more than I’d value any combination of Kuzma, Ball, Hart, and Ingram. So cheers, we’ve begun the next great NBA trade saga, so now all we have to do is wait.

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Losing to the Cavs? Lakers Need to Make a Move or Risk Running in Place

Since the 2016 Finals, LeBron-led teams have done one thing and one thing only: spun their tires. Despite making the finals every year, there was clear evidence that the Cavs hit the ceiling of what a LeBron-and-the-peanut-gallery team can achieve.

Last night, the Lakers lost to the now 9-35 Cleveland Cavaliers, who were riding an 11-game losing streak, and were on the road at the Staples Center, in pretty embarrassing fashion even though it was a 6-point game. The Lakers were, of course, short LeBron James whose absence due to a groin injury was extended at least until mid-January. The Cavs, however, were short both Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr., both of whom are among the sole talents on this barren team.

This begs the question: Did LeBron leave the Cavaliers only to play with a team just as bad? Basically, yes, he did. Of course, this is complicated by the fact that it’s widely accepted that LeBron going to LA was significantly impacted by the size and profitability of the LA market, compared to Cleveland. However, the King’s absence has shown that the Lakers, without LeBron, would essentially be bottom-feeding in the West along with the Suns. To my best estimation, I’d say they would be lucky to break 32 or 33 wins.

So, if the Lakers want to make anything out of LeBron’s precious remaining healthy years (which are now jeopardized by the first major injury he’s sustained in years) then they need to make a move, and fast. There is no time to waste. First of all, they need to stop the bleeding during the remainder of LeBron’s sabbatical. Even if he comes back at full-strength, which is far from a given, then they will need to step it up to get themselves back into the playoff race. They are still barely above .500, but if you’re trying to stay in the top 8 bubble, you cannot and I mean cannot lose to the Cavaliers. There is a very, very reasonable chance that a team like the Jazz, Pelicans, or Timberwolves start knocking on the door of the 8th seed.

More importantly, LeBron is 34, and just sustained a pretty significant injury unlike what he’s seen in this stage of his career. They can’t wait until Anthony Davis is a free-agent to realize it’s go time. So, what can the Lakers do to get themselves an even competent supporting cast for LeBron?

First, the obvious move is trading for Anthony Davis. This, of course, implies that the Pelicans are interested in moving him, which is not likely with the current landscape. In fact, the Pelicans are more likely to be buyers than sellers in this trade market, but that’s a different story. Let’s assume that Davis requests a trade before the deadline. The Celtics, without trading Kyrie Irving, cannot trade for Anthony Davis. Now, if I’m Danny Ainge, there is not a single player that is safe in an Anthony Davis trade, but the important thing here is that Boston is unlikely to make a move until after this trade season.

Aside from his unbelievable talent, AD fills a lot of holes for the Lakers, specifically. Their defense in the paint is abysmal, and they lack a true starting-caliber center. McGee has been unreliable, Tyson Chandler is fine off the bench but is also old as dirt, so he’s not a guarantee going forward. Zubac is, like, fine if you’re a middling team. But are any of these guys going to take care of business against, say, recovered-Demarcus Cousins? Or more realistically, Rudy Gobert of AD himself? Doubtful.

Aside from his defensive strength and versatility, Davis is a do-it-all scorer who has positional flexibility to play with other centers or other power forwards. If you could somehow get the trade done without giving up Kyle Kuzma, which would be extremely difficult, there would be a lot of interesting rotations with him, Davis, and LeBron, not all at the same time, even. That would be an indisputable upgrade defensively and offensively, even if you lost some depth to make it happen.

If Magic could get the deal done by giving up Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, someone else of marginal value and a pick? I would do that, easily. Of course, if I’m New Orleans, I’d want Kuzma, and honestly there is little guarantee that Kuzma would mesh well with AD and LeBron, despite the fact that he’s the best performer of the moveable pieces.

The important thing about AD is that the Lakers cannot afford to wait until after this season to move for him, if they decide that’s what the move is. They will not win a bidding war with Boston. They simply won’t. They have more valuable assets, both present and future, and are arguably a more desirable destination in the Eastern Conference, and on a team where you aren’t playing second-fiddle to a balding 34-year-old, or watching Ingram, who’s playing like a mumble-rapper-Andrew-Wiggins, miss mid-range jumpers.

Another trade I’d be interested in as the Lakers front office is for Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic. The Magic may still believe they can slide into a playoff spot, but any responsible front office will realize that losing in the first round won’t help you much, when next year will be nearly equally as wide open, and just coast for this season.

The smart move is to become sellers in this market, for Orlando. Vucevic is a potent scorer, and he’s on a pretty modest contract at about $12M, although he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. This trade, for say, KCP and a pick, or maybe any one of Hart, Ingram, or Ball, could pretty reasonably be balanced. KCP makes sense as their salaries are pretty balanced, and they both would be off the books after this year.

If Orlando could gain a pick or a player under contract for Vucevic, who might easily leave this year anyway, would be a score. Even if the Magic might make the playoffs, which is a stretch in and of itself, Vucevic probably isn’t a part of their long-term vision.

I went into further detail with those two scenarios than I originally intended, but the general idea is the more important aspect of this piece than the hypothetical trades themselves: the Lakers cannot sit this one out. With this injury as a potential turning point in LeBron’s career, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will have any more chances to win a title. The Warriors are the most vulnerable they’ve been, and with the potential to lose KD or Klay Thompson after this season, next year is really the last possible year before we’re talking about post-prime LeBron.

If they want to win a title, in the span of LeBron’s contract specifically, there really is no time like the present. There’s always a chance that this team finds it’s rhythm in the post-season, as LeBron always does, but none of the young guys on this roster have playoff experience, and many of them (Ball and Ingram specifically) have glaring, exploitable flaws akin to those that get exposed in the playoffs. Even assuming all of that, if the Lakers don’t do too hot into the end of the regular season, they may be playing a Golden State, Denver, Oklahoma City type team in the very first round.

I may be beating a dead horse here, but if this team wants to avoid the fate of the Cavaliers, they need to do more than spin their tires in the mud.

Editor’s Note: I do think that if the Lakers happen to make a significant move, they will in all likelihood try to move Ingram. This is mostly due to fit,    as Ingram is just the odd-man out. He’s too inefficient to play in a team with, hypothetically, LeBron        and AD. Kuzma is too valuable as a role player, and Lonzo is actually the ideal point-guard for a LeBron team, for all of his faults. 

The Other 29: 11/26

Welcome all, to the second installment of my new Monday column The Other 29, in which I seek to examine some exciting match-ups in the upcoming week for the 29 non-Sixer NBA teams. I’m still experimenting with exactly how I’d like to format the column, but for the meantime I’m gonna keep going day by day, match-up by match-up. Without further ado, here is the week’s marquis games:

Celtics @ Pelicans, Monday 11/26: Both Boston and New Orleans enter this battle of conflicting styles with records of 10-10. For Boston, this is much more comfortable as .500 is still good for the playoffs for right now, but I digress. New Orleans is a steamrolling juggernaut with AD on the floor, but lack any semblance of an identity without him. Alternatively, the Celtics look like they lack an identity no matter who is on the floor for them, even when Kyrie Irving is playing well. It’s easy to assume that the point guard playing better would make the offense improve as a whole, but this has not been the case in Boston. They still sit at the bottom of the barrel at 25th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in PPG, and they just can’t seem to find their footing on that end of the ball. Defensively, they’ve still been a bastion, as Al Horford continues to anchor a switchable, efficient defense. With that said, Boston’s wins have come from dragging the game into the mud and trying to play a physical game while attempting to improvise on offense. New Orleans, however, has dealt with having to sit AD for health concerns off-and-on, leaving them with two potentially very different teams on a nightly basis, depending who they have in. As good as Nikola Mirotic has been offensively, the team struggles to mount a cohesive game-plan without AD, and the offense has suffered. This game will be a battle between one team who wants to throw for 140 and one team that wants to hold their opponent to 90. Mostly, this game matters in order to see the ways in which a win or loss shakes up the rankings, as the Pelicans need to climb the rankings and the Celtics are at risk of falling down.

Warriors @ Raptors, Thursday 11/29: This will be the first meetup of the Western Conference and Eastern Conference leaders and the respective favorites to make the Finals entering the season. Rumor has it that Steph Curry will be playing again after a brief absence due to injury, and the Raptors offense has looked much more optimized in recent games, with Kyle Lowry doing more to initiate plays and Kawhi Leonard being a threat for 25 or so every night. Additionally, Toronto’s bench and role players have stepped up; the Raptors look like far and away the deepest contending roster in this year’s NBA. It will be interesting to see how quick of an impact the return of the senior splash brother will have, as the point guard responsibilities have diminished Klay Thompson’s offensive efficiency and the team just looks like a panicked scramble without Steph to hold it all together.

Nuggets @ Trailblazers, Friday 11/30: Both Portland and Denver are two of the more deep rosters contending for high playoff seeds in the West, however they both also seem to struggle to maintain consistency. So much of the Nuggets’ offense relies on Nikola Jokic initiating plays and staying out of foul trouble, neither of which are very easy for a ball-dominant big man with defensive issues. Meanwhile, Portlands’ backcourt continues to look like one of the very best out there, I’d say truly only the Warriors have them convincingly beat in that regard. At the end of the day Denver continues to face a decision between strong offensive but weak defensive backcourts, or more stable but less efficient lineups on offense. No matter which pill they take, it will be interesting to see how CJ and Dame try to exploit either weakness, and the big-man battle between Nurk and Jokic will determine a lot as to which team mounts an offense easier.