New Orleans has options right now. The Lakers, Knicks, Bucks, and Raptors are expected to make trade offers for Davis ahead of the deadline, according to multiple front office sources. To some degree, every team will at least consider making an offer. But the Nuggets are considered by front-office executives as the off-the-radar team that actually has the assets to complete a deal, should they choose to enter the sweepstakes.
Take the Raptors, for example. If Raptors president Masai Ujiri were to theoretically acquire Davis for an offer including Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and other assets, they’d immediately become the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Maybe they even win it all and both Kawhi Leonard and Davis commit long term to form a potential dynasty in Toronto. Even if Davis’s agency prefers him to play in Los Angeles, Davis is a grown man who will make his own decision. Davis prefers to play in a big market, according to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes. But Davis, above all else, wants to win. “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship,” Paul told Wojnarowski. It’s hard to hard to foresee him leaving a team that makes a title run. And if Davis doesn’t want to re-sign, the front office could then flip him in another trade. The same is true for any other contending team that’s interested in acquiring Davis now, whether it’s the Bucks, Nuggets, or a someone else. The return for Davis this summer could be larger than what any team gives up for him now, which is why the Pelicans themselves just might wait.
Davis is under contract though next season and while he’s eligible to sign a five-year, $240 million supermax extension with New Orleans this summer, he can’t become a free agent until the summer of 2020. In other words, time is on the Pelicans’ side, even if Davis’ trade demand has started the clock. He’ll almost certainly be moved. The question is: when and to whom?
The Toronto Raptors are one of many teams that figure to be interested. Why wouldn’t they be? Davis is an all-world talent. At worst, he’s a top-7 or top-8 NBA player, a transcendent star that, at 25 years of age, hasn’t even hit his prime.
As for the Raptors, it’s no secret; they’re all-in this season. After their off-season trade for Kawhi Leonard, who can become a free agent this summer, they have given themselves a one-year window to compete for a championship, while also trying to extend that window by selling Leonard on a future in Toronto. Theoretically, Davis could help them accomplish both of those objectives. But how realistic is it?
The market for Davis will be crowded and competitive. At the centre of it all sits the Boston Celtics, a team that has been collecting assets, and hanging onto them, for years in the hopes of making a run at this very player. With their treasure trove of established veterans, intriguing young stars and quality draft picks, they’ve got the pieces to outbid any other team for Davis.
“Geez,” was how Raptors head coach Nick Nurse responded when asked for his thoughts on the outstanding rookie.
Nurse said that what impressed him the most about Doncic was his ability to consistently make the right plays, despite facing heavy defensive pressure. The Raptors got right up on him and tried to force him into mistakes, but Nurse marvelled at Doncic’s ability to handle the ball without turning it over. Time after time, he found teammates for easy buckets or scored himself. Even when Doncic was throwing up prayers, like after-the-whistle, unorthodox three-pointers, they tended to fall.
Veteran Raptors guard Danny Green was impressed.
“He can shoot it well. Very crafty, just like most Europeans. For his age, he’s way ahead of his time,” Green said after the Raptors locker room had mostly cleared out.
“He plays at a good pace, very poised. Smart, high IQ, uses his body and the angles. So, he’s kind of a seasoned vet as a rookie right now. I’m sure interested to see how well he progresses from here.”
Leonard being “the guy” has rounded out the rest of the Raptors into clear roles. Point guard Kyle Lowry, despite a poor shooting season, remains the floor general and pitbull on both offense and defense. Center Serge Ibaka is playing the best he’s ever played in Toronto, averaging a career-high in points (16.1) while remaining an above average rim defender. Pascal Siakam is the NBA’s Most Improved Player (more on him here). Danny Green is the much-needed veteran shooter who’s a plus defender. Toronto’s depth is also deep. Guards Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell, Delon Wright, and OG Anunoby, mixed with center Jonas Valanciunas (who’s almost back from injury) give the Raptors tons of rotational options.
Toronto would likely have the NBA’s best record if Leonard played every single game. But for once, the Raptors intend on being more than a very good regular-season team. They want to be in the NBA Finals, and Leonard gives them their best chance to do so in franchise history.
Have a winner..it is the Toronto Maple Leafs
— Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) December 25, 2011
The real question is, the best deal for whom? Davis switched to Paul and Klutch Sports last September, and Paul’s statement to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski read, “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him the chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.” Which, strictly applied, rules out the Knicks.
The Pelicans released a statement that said they would do the best thing for the Pelicans, and asked the NBA “to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.” The NBA, which as a league is a tampering traffic cop on a tampering F1 course, is already looking into whether Davis would be fined a small amount for demanding a trade.
Poor New Orleans. LeBron’s patience with the Lakers has always seemed like one of those old Hollywood Western sets where the general store and the saloon are just painted plywood held up with two by fours. Paul is said to be sensitive to the idea that he might steer his megastar client to his megastar buddy. Perish the thought.
Well, except … huh. New Orleans should hold out for the best deal, and Boston can theoretically offer the best deal, but not now. They have purloined first-rounders and a deep well of young talent, from Jayson Tatum on down. Due to a quirk in the collective bargaining agreement involving Kyrie Irving’s contract, Boston can’t trade for Davis before July 1. But the Celtics have the best goods, if they are willing to offer them.
The fact is, the Raptors don’t have the assets to match other teams.
Aside from Kawhi Leonard — and even then his expiring contract hurts his market value — Toronto’s most valuable trade chip is Pascal Siakam, the 24-year-old Most Improved Player candidate and potential all-star who is on his rookie-scale contract for one more season before becoming a restricted free agent. The ability to have him under team control for the near future is naturally appealing, to say nothing of his sky-high potential.
But it is going to take a lot more to land a player of Davis’s calibre. Any package is believed to have to include a combination of prospects and draft picks. But beyond Siakam, the Raptors don’t really have players to include in a deal that will dramatically move the needle for New Orleans.
Delon Wright is one player whose name will come up in trade talks between now and the Feb. 7 deadline, but he is on the final year of his deal and, with his role and playing time diminishing under Nick Nurse, hasn’t shown the kind of progression needed to boost his trade value.
OG Anunoby is certainly a player of undeniable promise but it’s unclear whether he holds the same regard outside of the Toronto market.
When the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard last summer, Masai Ujiri put the league on notice. It became clear the Raptors weren’t content with being a perennial playoff team; it’s championship or bust.
With Davis on the table, Ujiri has a chance to truly go all-in for a title in 2018-19. The Raptors have been in first or second place in the Eastern Conference all season, and pairing Davis with Leonard would be a sight to behold. The duo would instantly form the best two-way tandem in the league, with both stars able to take over a game offensively or defensively.
But could the Raptors really put a compelling enough trade package together? It seems like they have the pieces to at least get conversations moving. Pascal Siakam has emerged as a budding star, and would likely be the main target for the Pelicans. OG Anunoby is another attractive trade chip, and has shown flashes of the type of player he could develop into with increased opportunity. The Raptors also have a number of veterans on lucrative contracts that could be used to match up salaries.
The Raptors probably can’t match up with what the Lakers could offer, but have an advantage over the Celtics in that they don’t have to wait until the summer to begin negotiations.
The Raptors already have an All-Star and MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard and while Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam are in the mix to make it into the All-Star Game as reserves, the Raptors lack that second surefire superstar that’s propelled the Golden State Warriors and Clevland Cavaliers to titles in recent years. Adding Davis, who is an MVP candidate this season and has made the All-NBA First Team in three of the last four seasons, would give Toronto that second player like Kevin Durant was for the Warriors and what Kyrie Irving was for the Cavaliers.
To add to that, the Boston Celtics are reportedly interested in the superstar. Between their young players (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) and a plethora of draft picks, they can make an offer that would be tough for New Orleans to turn down. However, they can’t trade for Davis until the off-season due to the Rose Rule, which allows teams to only have one player under contract who signed an extension to make 30 percent of their team’s salary cap before they finished their rookie deal. With Kyrie Irving taking up that slot, they have to either wait for his contract to expire this off-season or trade him to get Davis, which is unlikely to happen.
If the Raptors make an attempt and succeed to trade for Davis before the trade deadline, they would block one of their top rivals for the Eastern Conference title from ever getting him.
Fred VanVleet inbounded the ball to Norm Powell and then raced by him to take a flip pass and get the ball back. While all that was going on, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam were occupying a couple of defenders up near the three-point arc at the other end of the floor when Lowry suddenly cut back toward the ball.
VanVleet saw him, hit him with a perfect pass that Lowry caught as he turned and drilled a turnaround 28-footer, barely beating the end-of-quarter buzzer.
“We executed really well down the stretch (Sunday) night, we even executed some really good special plays,” Nurse told reporters after Toronto’s 123-120 victory. “In three and a half seconds, we ran the full-court play for a three. And we did some nice stuff execution-wise.”
The execution of “special” plays — end of quarter, end of game, after a key timeout — is always a juicy topic of conversation for fans and the media. Who gets the ball? What action precedes or sets up the shot? How much do the plays catch the defence by surprise? How much does a team change defences just for a different look for one possession.
All great opportunities for second-guessing.