Pelicans Retain Anthony Davis at Trade Deadline

Anthony Davis isn’t going to be suiting up for a new team yet.

The Pelicans did not trade Davis before Thursday’s deadline, opting to keep the star forward for the rest of the season and re-evaluate deals in the summer. Davis requested a trade January 28 amid rumors he would pair up with LeBron James on the Lakers.

New Orleans did reportedly receive several offers from the Lakers, but did not like any enough to pull the trigger and deal Davis, according to Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania. Davis also provided the Pelicans with four teams he’d sign a long-term deal with if traded. The Lakers, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks were on that list.

Davis is still under contract for 2019-20, so the Pelicans aren’t risking losing him for nothing by waiting for the summer. New Orleans will be able to weigh all its options in the offseason and allow the Celtics, who have the most assets, to get in on the Davis sweepstakes. Boston is unable to acquire Davis until Kyrie Irving opts out of his contract due to both players signing the designated rookie extension. A team can only have one player under this extension on the roster. The Celtics must wait for Irving to reach free agency before trading for Davis.

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The Knicks opened up two maximum salary slots by trading a package of players centered around Kristaps Porzingis for Dennis Smith Jr. and two expiring contracts in DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews. New York also has a draft pick that will likely fall near the top of the lottery, if not No. 1 overall. That would be the most attractive asset for New Orleans in any Davis trade.

The Clippers traded Tobias Harris to the 76ers Wednesday, starting a path to creating two maximum salary slots themselves. Los Angeles didn’t plan on re-signing Harris to a long-term deal in free agency, with designs on other players instead. The Clippers got Landry Shamet, a promising rookie, and two first-round picks in the Harris trade. They can group those assets as part of a trade package for Davis if they don’t believe they’ll be able to sign other stars in free agency.

Milwaukee will have cap space to fit Davis in the summer, but the expiring contracts of Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon also represent the best assets New Orleans could get in a trade. The Bucks don’t own their first-round pick for 2019 or 2021, making it hard to give New Orleans immediate draft capital. It’s hard to see a scenario where Davis lands in Milwaukee.

The Lakers, long considered the front-runners to land Davis, have been the most aggressive in pursuing him. The Pelicans waiting until the summer to deal Davis could backfire. If the Celtics refuse to part with Jayson Tatum in a deal (and they would if Irving bolts as a free agent) and the Knicks don’t land the top overall pick in the 2019 draft, the Pelicans risk losing out on LA’s trade deadline offers. The Lakers could get a commitment from a star free agent and do the deal anyway, but the offer might be less valuable than it was this week.

Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry told reporters Wednesday that Davis wouldn’t play for the Pelicans until after the trade deadline. But let’s be honest: Davis shouldn’t play if New Orleans is planning on dealing him in the offseason.

For the first time in a long time, the Pelicans actually own a first-round pick and find themselves on the edges of the loaded Western conference playoff picture. Playing Davis risks two things: injury and winning enough games to fall out of the top three in the lottery.

Davis was already sidelined with a finger injury this year. He’s yet to play a full NBA season in his career. Playing him the rest of the season risks another injury, which could hamper his value in the summer. The Pelicans would also remain competitive in games with Davis playing, something they don’t necessarily want to do. Part of what landed them in this situation was not having draft picks. New Orleans will want its 2019 first-round selection to have a chance at the top of the lottery.

The Pelicans are playing a dangerous game holding onto Davis past the deadline, but they need to feel the return is worth it in any trade. If New Orleans lands a significant asset in the offseason, waiting will be the right move. If Boston refuses to include Tatum and New York misses out on a high lottery selection, New Orleans might’ve wished it took the Lakers’ deadline offer.

The Davis saga will continue into the offseason. The immediate question is whether the forward ever suits up for the Pelicans again.

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