The New Orleans Pelicans big man has long been atop the list of dream targets and the writing has been on the wall for a potential Davis trade for quite some time.
The Pelicans have failed to put together a winning roster around Davis. The University of Kentucky product can opt out of his contract after next season, so New Orleans would be wise to sever ties with the five-time all-star before his current deal is through, lest risk watching one of the most talented forwards the NBA has ever seen bolt in free agency.
The Davis trade story progressed significantly on Monday morning after his agent, Rich Paul, stated that Davis has notified the Pelicans that he does not plan to re-sign with the club once his contract is up and that he has officially requested a trade.
There is a long line of teams that will be vying for Davis’s services, whether they are contenders seeking to seriously bolster their lineup, or teams with the right package of assets to pull the trigger and begin re-building their team around ‘The Brow.’
Fans of nearly every fan base will ask themselves today: Does my team have a shot?
If you follow the Toronto Raptors, that question holds major implications on several fronts. Acquiring Davis would not only cement the Raptors’ status as the team to beat in the East, but could even make them favourites to win it all. That’s how good Davis — who is averaging nearly 30 points and 13.3 rebounds per game this season — is.
But do the Raptors really have a shot at landing him? Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
To say there’ll be competition for Davis’s services is an understatement. A generational talent, Davis would dramatically alter the hopes of whichever team eventually trades for him, and clubs will be willing to empty the war chest to make it happen — particularly if they feel they can sign him to an extension next summer.
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.
The Raptors do have the salaries to match. A package of Siakam, Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and draft picks in exchange for Davis and the expiring contract of Solomon Hill would technically work. But is it the best New Orleans can do?
The answer likely lies in the draft picks, and this is where the Raptors really pale in comparison to others.
Call it a happy consequence of winning, but unless Toronto is dealing future picks — and you’d have to think the Pelicans would want immediate selections that can help land them another potential star via the draft to accelerate their rebuild— it’s unlikely Toronto’s picks would be high enough to entice New Orleans.
This season, the Raptors’ pick, top-20 protected, will belong to the San Antonio Spurs as part of the DeMar DeRozan trade. And whether Leonard stays or goes, selections in the next couple of seasons may not even be in the lottery, plummeting their value given the Pelicans’ situation.
Compare that to the most popular — or at least most-rumoured — potential landing spots like Boston or Los Angeles, and the Raptors can’t compete.
The Celtics have a wealth of draft picks thanks to a slew of shrewd deals made this decade. The club holds the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies’ 2019 first-round pick, as well as the Sacramento Kings’ choice. There are restrictions on both picks, but as of now both are projected to land in the 2019 lottery, the Memphis pick being the most valuable given the Grizzlies’ poor record and 14th seed in the West. If the Los Angeles Clippers fall out of a playoff spot, that pick can also go to Boston.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, and when coupled with young players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — one of the most valuable trade chips in the NBA at just 20 years old and clear top-10 potential — arguably no team is in a better position to go after Davis.
The one caveat with Boston is that, because of an obscure rule known as the “Rose Rule,” the Celtics will have to wait until the off-season to strike a deal. The provision is named after Derrick Rose and applied to players who sign mammoth extensions after their rookie-scale deal expires, a short list that includes Davis and Kyrie Irving, and disallows teams from trading for more than one such player within a year.
The Lakers don’t have the draft assets to match Boston, but their young core of promising prospects like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart form an appealing package that could help kickstart the rebuilding process in a big way.
Davis has been linked to the Lakers ever since they signed LeBron James last summer. The two share an agent, Rich Paul, and would make an absolutely lethal combo capable of destroying the Golden State Warriors dynasty.
Sure, it would absolutely make sense for Toronto to take a run at Davis. It’s no secret that the club is trying to shore up its roster ahead of a playoff run, and with Leonard’s impending free agency, there’s a real sense of urgency surrounding making the most of this season given the team’s ceiling is set to crumble should he depart at season’s end.
There were recent rumblings of the Raptors trying to make a run at Washington’s Bradley Beal for this exact reason, with Siakam believed to be a player they’d have to part with in the process. The Wizards reportedly intend to keep Beal around, but the rumour did nothing to quell the notion that the Raptors’ roster isn’t locked into place.
Davis to Toronto? That would sure turn heads. What’s more, it would provide the club with insurance should Leonard walk in free agency this coming off-season, given Davis has another year under contract.
But will it happen? Let’s ask Wayne: