Anthony Davis has asked the New Orleans Pelicans to trade him “to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship,” his agent, Rich Paul, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski in a report this morning. That trade, if it eventually happens, could be one of the most consequential in the NBA in years.
Davis has a player option on his contract that allows him to become a free agent after next season, and according to Woj’s report he has informed the Pelicans that he will not sign a contract extension. That decision, and making his trade request public, puts enormous pressure on the organization to make a deal, lest it risk losing the best player in team history for nothing in free agency the summer after next. Davis can also in effect exert veto power over potential trades, by indicating which potential destinations he’d be willing or unwilling to consider signing an extension: Teams that knew they’d only be renting him for a season and a half presumably wouldn’t offer as much in return as teams making a longer-term investment.
A five-time all-star and three-time all-NBA honoree at 25 years old, Davis is an MVP candidate and one of the absolute best players in the sport. The Pelicans can’t settle for less than a lot in return for the face of their franchise; potential trade partners, like the Los Angeles Lakers, will be offering to gut themselves of young talent and draft assets in order to make a deal happen. As such, it seems unlikely that any plausible trade could unseat the Golden State Warriors at the top of the league this season. But any trade that pairs him with a fellow superstar or two—something the Pelicans never were able to accomplish, four months of a beautiful and doomed DeMarcus Cousins rental notwithstanding—could give the NBA a major new contender for years to come.
As for the Pelicans, well, shit. Observers in the media have been speculating about Davis’s post-New Orleans future since not long after the team drafted him in 2012, and the front office’s continual failure to build a team worthy of his generational gifts—or, more broadly, to just resemble a functional, non-ridiculous basketball operation—made some kind of bitter separation seem inevitable. They’ll almost certainly be able to demand more in return for Davis than they shipped out in return for Cousins the last time a young, MVP-caliber big man came available around the trading deadline: Davis, unlike Cousins back in 2017, comes with no serious blemishes on his reputation, and just about every team in the NBA will at least be open to discussing a possible deal. That’s got to be pretty meager consolation. Generations could pass before that team and its fanbase get another crack at a young player as promising, as luminous, and as easy to root for as Davis was when they drafted him.
A fun wrinkle, which Woj notes in his report: The Boston Celtics, loaded with tantalizing young players and draft assets, and rumored for years to have been making moves with an eye toward eventually trading for Davis, cannot enter the trade sweepstakes until July. Davis’s and Kyrie Irving’s existing contracts both fall under the Rose Rule, which governs the contracts high-performing players coming off their rookie deals can sign, and NBA rules prohibit teams from acquiring multiple players on Rose Rule contracts via trade*. Now damn near every other team in the league gets a head start on trying to acquire this superstar Boston has been targeting for years. I want to end on that note, because it’s very funny.