Having won the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery (aka the Zion Williamson sweepstakes), the New Orleans Pelicans may decide to enter the 2019-20 season with Anthony Davis still on the roster. One doesn’t need a vivid imagination to picture a team led by Davis, Zion and Jrue Holiday immediately reaching the Western Conference Finals. Sleeping? Don’t forget the Pels swept Portland just last year — albeit with the since-departed duo of Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic as starters. Personally I agree with SBNation’s Ricky O’Donnell, who argues that Davis won’t find a better teammate than Zion — and that A.D. should stick around if competing for championships is indeed his top priority. Still, if Davis remains determined to ditch the bayou for beaches, LeBron, the Big Apple or any of the other 29 teams, NOLA would be wise to trade him prior to the 2020 deadline.
All in all, it’s safe to say the odds of a Davis trade taking place on draft night have gone down, but how substantially is hard to say. Nevertheless, the Davis saga promises to be among the top storylines leading up to the June 20 draft. As such, here are a dozen potential two-team trades* that probably range from fairly reasonable to melt-your-brain-and-burn-your-eyes-bad. Note that I do not intend to rank these deals but instead (hopefully) provide some perspective on behalf of both parties as to why they might entertain it.
Under contract for 2019-20
Including these salary figures** for the 2019-20 season to highlight the fact that the Pelicans can free up a plethora of open roster spots if needed. In other words, New Orleans can afford to take back several players for A.D.
Zion Williamson (about six million), Jrue Holiday ($26.2 million), Anthony Davis ($27.1 million), Solomon Hill ($13.3 million), E’Twaun Moore ($8.8 million), Julius Randle ($9.1 million player option), Jahlil Okafor ($1.7 million team option), Christian Wood ($1.6 million non-guaranteed), Frank Jackson ($1.6 million non-guaranteed), Kenrich Williams ($1.4 million non-guaranteed), Dairis Bertans ($1.4 million non-guranteed), Picks 39 and 57?
A lot of signs point to Randle opting out and being brought back on a new deal. I’d gladly let him sign elsewhere though; defensively he is dog poop and though he showed improved shooting range, he doesn’t really fit next to Zion offensively either. The only non-guaranteed guy I’d cut ties with is Bertans (the older brother of Davis), an undersized shooting guard who struggled (10-for-34 from three, 29.4 percent) while appearing in 12 games.
Williams somehow wasn’t drafted last summer, as teams were blinded by his age (turns 25 in December) and thus overlooked his team defense, three-point shooting and sky-high basketball IQ. Wood’s calling card as a center is his willingness to step out beyond the arc offensively, albeit with inconsistent results. Jackson had a solid rookie campaign and can fill it up in bunches as a scorer off the bench. And Okafor was surprisingly spry last season.
It can be debated whether Danny Ainge would be willing to offer such a plentiful package of players and picks (or whether Kyrie Irving has two feet out the door), but this scenario, like many of the other potential trades listed below, is mainly for the purpose of consideration and discussion.
In this theoretical universe, perhaps Irving tells the front office that he’ll only re-sign if they acquire Davis and keep Al Horford. Maybe the bidding war for Davis becomes intense, with multiple teams offering their kitchen sinks, and so the Celtics decide they have to make a godfather offer.
Boston could then afford to bring back Marcus Morris and fill out the rest of the rotation in free agency, as they save over $11 million in 2019-20 on this deal — plus Moore and Hill would come off the books next summer. They’d also be freed from Gordon Hayward’s contract, which is a big part of why the Pelicans could demand so many young players and picks in return.
And from the Pelicans perspective, Hayward is precisely the type of player the team should take a chance on now that renowned trainer Aaron Nelson is aboard. Even if the Celtics insisted on keeping Brown and/or refused to part with more than a couple of those picks, this would still be a strong offer. NOLA would boast one of the deepest benches and scrappiest defenses in the league. Moreover, there’d be no shortage of respectable small-ball combos.
I almost excluded the Nets from this exercise for the same reason the Atlanta Hawks aren’t anywhere to be found. Oddly enough, it doesn’t feel on-brand for this new era of Brooklyn basketball. Atlanta could put themselves in the running for Davis by offering up John Collins, picks, etc. but the front office and coaching staff have preached trusting the process and slowly building a winner. Trading for an in-his-prime Anthony Davis would be nothing like Brooklyn’s ill-fated moves of yesteryear, but could the Nets stomach trading away most, if not all, of their promising young core? I have my doubts.
New York Knicks
With Ja Morant expected to be selected second, this would likely mean the Pelicans plan to pair Zion with fellow former Blue Devil R.J. Barrett. If Barrett was a knockdown perimeter shooter — which he was not at the college level — the pairing would make a lot of sense. I’m not a fan of pushing Zion off the ball though, especially not for Barrett — which is what happened a lot at Duke. As such, I view this as an underwhelming offer. Nevertheless, Barrett’s overall profile is impressive and it’s of course possible that he will shoot at the next level, which is why we can’t totally rule this out.
For the Knicks, Barrett really only makes sense in New York if they strike out in free agency. It’s hard to imagine them haggling here.
The problem for the Pelicans here is that it’s unclear whether Simmons and Zion would actually fit together. Sure, both can operate as the ball-handler and screener in the pick-and-roll. But Simmons hasn’t shown much improvement as a shooter, and the best way to optimize Zion is probably to put four shooters around him to help open up the floor. Individually speaking the best-case-scenario for both is likely a situation similar to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s in Milwaukee, but how well would Giannis fit alongside another Giannis? Maybe it’d be a moot point because they’d be tossing each other alley-oops galore and it would be glorious. But maybe not. Still, this is without a doubt the best offer the Pelicans could ever hope for, and it’s one they’d be highly unlikely to turn down.
From Philly’s perspective, it would facilitate better floor spacing offensively (duh) — but it would further speed up their timeline and be extremely costly. Pairing A.D. with Joel Embiid would also be the most against-the-grain move imaginable, a fascinating twin tower counter to small-ball.
Most Americans will find themselves rooting for Canada in the NBA Finals. And if the Raptors are crowned champions, this entire article should be set on fire (or at the very least this blurb should be scrubbed). Win or lose versus the Warriors, completing this trade would result in Kanye West’s “Heartless” becoming Masai Ujiri’s official theme song. However, if Golden State prevails as expected, Ujiri has already traded a homegrown All-Star for an MVP-level player. Even if the Raps do lose to the Warriors, count me among those who will be surprised if Kawhi leaves Toronto this summer. Leonard’s improvement as a playmaker has been on full display this postseason, and the duo of Davis and Kawhi would undoubtedly be terrifying on both ends.
For the Pels, Lowry (33) would be a great fit in the backcourt next to Holiday while Siakam and Zion would be an intriguing and versatile frontcourt duo, a small-ball dream. Rookies rarely make a positive impact, particularly in the win column, but Zion is a rare bird. As such, I wouldn’t be opposed to NOLA adding costly win-now pieces like Lowry (especially with Nelson in tow).
As an aside, the successful bets that Toronto and Oklahoma City placed serve as extra incentive for a surprise team to swoop in without assurances that Davis will stay but obviously hoping to convince him to sign long-term. Keeping that in mind, let’s move on to the Western Conference.
Despite failing to live up to their seeding (second), Denver didn’t disappoint in this core’s first trip to the postseason. So why trade the two players First Team All-NBA center Nikola Jokic has developed excellent chemistry with? Oh yeah, because Anthony Davis is a dominant two-way player who, along with guys like Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig, could help hide Jokic on D.
NOLA would likely at least entertain this because it would provide a much-needed boost to the backcourt, plus Harris is a multi-positional defender. The name of the game has to be opening up the floor for Zion, and the tandem of Murray and Harris certainly helps in that regard. Meanwhile Vanderbilt slipped to the second round in 2018 due to injury concerns, which makes him another interesting buy-low candidate for the Pels. Honestly I went back and forth between Vanderbilt and Monte Morris being the third player in the deal.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors blow another 3-1 series lead after Draymond Green gets suspended for kicking Marc Gasol in the groin in a Game 5 loss. Just kidding. Anyways, the league (and NBA Twitter) would devolve into madness. It would be absolutely, positively unbearable. I’d probably delete my account and then ride a water buffalo out into the wilderness, never to be seen or heard from again. Fear not, though, for none of that is going to happen, but of course Alvin Gentry and Green do go way back — and Zion, Draymond and Jrue would be downright disgusting defensively. (Scalding hot take: the Warriors wouldn’t be any better than they are now.)
CP3 returns to NOLA to finish his Hall-of-Fame career and Nelson helps him age like Steve Nash. Paul, Jrue, Zion and Capela. Yes, please. If it’s not already crystal clear, I simply don’t buy the Clay Davis line of thinking, so no I don’t think this would a terribly short-sighted move for the Pelicans. Zion is ready to run, and this squad would be super fun.
Houston gets off Paul’s contract and finds the perfect pick-and-roll partner for James Harden while keeping two key starters in Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker.
Los Angeles Clippers
Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari alone is arguably more compelling than the Lakers’ best offer. Throw in a couple picks, the latter of which could be pretty juicy, and it’s easy to see why this might appeal to the Pelicans. And for the Clippers, it would likely coax another star to sign there in free agency.
Los Angeles Lakers
I’m not abandoning the Ball bandwagon. And I think he’d be a very good fit on both ends in New Orleans (don’t tell his dad that), where Rajon Rondo routinely racked up double-digit dimes during his lone year on the team. However, health concerns aside Ingram has primarily been a bad fit alongside LeBron for the same reasons he wouldn’t be an ideal fit next to Zion. To be fair, Kuzma and Hart would probably mesh pretty well, and even if the club ultimately let Ingram walk when his contract is up this wouldn’t be a bad haul as long as the player picked at four eventually lived up to expectations.
Shoutout to SBNation’s Michael Pina for suggesting the Suns as a not-so-insane potential trade partner in a recent piece. I’m not sold on Ayton by any stretch of the imagination, and Ayton-Zion might be a poor fit on both ends unless Ayton extends his shooting range. However, if the trio of Holiday, Bridges and Zion couldn’t protect Ayton defensively, perhaps no one could. Warren, Bridges and the two first-round picks is a decent return nevertheless.
Portland Trail Blazers
McCollum is constantly mentioned in trade rumors. But he sees it a blessing, choosing to look on the bright side — specifically that he’s a player other teams would love to acquire. Collins projects as a superb two-way fit next to Zion and CJ-Jrue would be a filthy backcourt. Are you not entertained?
*Shamit Dua of Bourbon Street Shots has mentioned the potential for a three-team trade in which NOLA acquires Bradley Beal (turns 26 this summer).
**Salary information provided by the always useful earlybirdrights.com.