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Rumours

Is Anthony Davis real?

Yesterday, Anthony Davis requested a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans and immediately ignited fever dreams across the landscape of the NBA.

It’s obvious that Toronto wants Davis. Briefly, he would change the team entirely. The basic framework would be Pascal Siakam+OG Anunoby+Jonas Valanciunas/Serge Ibaka+Delon Wright/ Norman Powell for Davis and filler. Nick Tutssel went into much greater depth about what the trade could possibly look like. Because Toronto would only include one center and not both, they would really only be trading one starter, Siakam, and replacing him with one MVP candidate. That’s ridiculous; Toronto would be gutting its depth, but hardly its top-end talent.

On defence, Davis matches Kawhi Leonard’s physical profile as freaky long and athletic. Both can defend four positions capably (1-4 for Leonard and 2-5 for Davis) and switch onto the fifth when required. Both blow up entire plays with their combination of ability, intelligence, and athleticism. Davis is an elite shot-blocker and rebounder, and Toronto’s paint protection has become something of an issue over the past few months. He creates oodles of turnovers, and Toronto’s best offence is undoubtedly in transition. A defence led by Leonard and Davis would be top-3 or top-4 in the league.

On offence, Davis is equally mind-boggling. He is one of the league’s best rim-runners, post players, isolation players, and initiators from both big positions. Davis would fit perfectly into everything Toronto does on offence. When Kyle Lowry runs the show, Davis would be a brilliant pick-and-roll partner. He would create far more space for Lowry at the initial point of contact, and his rolling would suck up far more gravity than either Ibaka’s or Valanciunas’, creating more space for shooters like Danny Green in the corner. When Toronto slows down the game in the half-court and isolates, Davis is an equal option to Leonard. Even when Toronto runs a predictable offence, Davis’ abilities would offer that much more versatility. He would be a fantastic end of game option, which has been something of an issue with potential game-winning shots thus far on the season.

Furthermore, trading for Davis makes re-signing Leonard much more likely. Almost all of this goes without saying. If Toronto traded for Davis, they would have a realistic chance of winning an NBA championship. It’s obvious why Toronto would want him.

But let’s revisit the actual chances Toronto has to land the superstar.

There is a real scenario in which the Raptors acquire Davis as a rental for the upcoming playoffs, decide he won’t re-sign, then flips him to Los Angeles or elsewhere for assets, if not as many as they sent out in the first place. (I mean, who doesn’t want to see Lonzo Ball on the Raptors?) But the point is that even if Davis is 100 percent going to leave, the trade is still probably worth it. Like with Leonard, Davis not explicitly wanting to be in Toronto shouldn’t deter the team. And there’s a tiny bit of smoke on the horizon to indicate that noted wizard Masai Ujiri is actually trying to conjure this scenario into existence.

Some broader, national outlets have mentioned the scenario, which means that it’s not just a fantasy possessing Toronto’s fan base.

Tim Bontemps mentioned Toronto as a dark horse candidate for ESPN. He’s very reliable, but he doesn’t mention any sources; this is purely an idea that might work. Here’s the relevant passage:

“One dark horse team already has proved willing to make such a trade and is well-positioned to go for it: the Toronto Raptors.”

Kevin O’Connor at the Ringer also brought up Toronto as a potential suitor. He actually does have sources who cite Toronto as “making an offer”, although that is hardly news. Every team will be making a call to Dell Demps, so that’s not really smoke indicating anything on its own. Still, it’s on his mind, and O’Connor mentions Toronto as being on the short list with higher-profile teams like the Lakers and the Knicks. (That’s probably overselling Toronto’s position, to be fair.)

Zach Lowe mentioned on his podcast that if Toronto made Pascal Siakam available on the trade market, they have much greater spending power. Siakam is better than any of the Lakers’ young guns, and his inclusion would mean Demps would have to answer the call. Would it be enough for Demps to trade now instead of waiting for the summer and cashing in with Boston?

Siakam is quite a big piece, but he’s probably slightly less valuable than Portland’s CJ McCollum, or if New Orleans waits until the offseason to make the trade, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, or Zion Williamson. Unlike Boston, the Raptors do not have a hammer on their roster that can smash all other bids to bits. It’s hard to evaluate teams’ thought processes, and every team has slightly different contexts that inform player evaluation. It’s possible that Demps values Siakam and his upside higher than McCollum’s, and his current almost-all-star status as more important to the present than several years of developing a high-upside rookie. That’s unlikely, but it’s possible, and there would be no way of knowing.

Another possible indicator of Toronto trying to trade for Davis is Vegas odds. Oddsmakers picked up the Kawhi Leonard to Toronto rumours quite early, and some  books had Toronto as a leader in the race for Davis on the trade market. Markets are all over the map, and several others have Toronto as much less likely to acquire Davis. There’s no obvious, billowing smoke, like there was over the summer with Leonard. Generally, oddsmakers seem to agree with guys like Bontemps, O’Connor, and Lowe that the Raptors are dark horses.

So there’s no smoking gun, at least not yet. There’s not much to indicate that New Orleans is valuing Toronto’s as the best offer on the market, or even that Davis is 100 percent getting traded this season. So is Davis in Toronto real? No, not yet. But it could be. They occurred in different circumstances, but trading for Davis to pair with Leonard is no crazier than the original trade of franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for Leonard himself.

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