As soon as it was reported that Davis was on the trading block, every fanbase ran to Twitter to see if their team could get in on the bidding.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer mentioned that the teams preparing offers for Davis are the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks and, that’s right, the Toronto Raptors, according to multiple front-office sources.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Davis and his agent will be telling the league that Davis prefers the Lakers, and any other team acquiring him will be getting a long-term rental player until he can opt out of his contract in the summer of 2020. Wojnarowski also believes the Pelicans won’t make a move now unless they are overwhelmed with an offer.
Still skeptical that ‘The Brow’ could come north? Here’s why the Raptors should make a move and try to “overwhelm” New Orleans, even if Davis has no intention of staying long-term at this point.
There naturally is reluctance to give up a player rapidly improving like Pascal Siakam for a player who won’t be around long-term. Siakam is 24. Davis is 25. If the rationale is Siakam is an ascending on-court asset, so is Davis.
Siakam is also better than anyone the Lakers, Knicks or Celtics would put in the deal. You could make the argument Jayson Tatum might be a better asset, but he’s not playing better than “Spicy P” right now. And either way, the Celtics can’t get in on the bidding until July. As much as everyone has hyped the Lakers’ young core of stars, they’ve all been inconsistent and failed to reach their potential, which is why the Lakers have struggled even with the addition of LeBron James. Lonzo Ball, one of the potential young players that would be heading to New Orleans, reportedly doesn’t want to be there.
Siakam is a young, budding star that comes with no baggage and impacts winning and thus could be the catalyst in a deal for Davis. It might be the time to sell high on a player the Raptors drafted 27th overall in 2016.
Depth is not an issue
Nick Nurse is routinely playing anywhere from 10-12 players a night depending on health and availability. The Raptors are one of the few teams that could absorb a trade for Davis and not have their depth decimated to the point they could no longer compete.
For argument’s sake, let’s say their trade centred around Siakam, OG Anunoby, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and a future draft pick. Losing four players, only one of which is a starter, off a roster that plays 12 and is receiving Davis and change to make the salaries work is still good enough. You have Kawhi Leonard and Davis! How often does a roster have two of the top five players in the game on it? That would be the best big man and wing combo since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. You can get role players. They are a dime a dozen. That top-end talent would be able to play with the leftover depth on the Raptors’ roster. The way you win is by stacking superstars, not by having great depth. Depth is mitigated in the playoffs when rotations get shorter, so you might as well trade some of it now.
Davis would be the best player on the team
There are rumours the Raptors were pursuing Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, but the Wizards want two players and two draft picks for him. If you have to give up Anunoby and Siakam, it might as well be for Davis. There are a bunch of guys who can do what Beal does. Let’s not lose sight of how good Davis is just because he plays late at night and is hardly ever on Canadian TV.
Over his career, Davis has averaged 24 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals. He’s a five-time all-star, three-time All-NBA First Team selection and three-time blocks leader. Plus, he gets even better in the playoffs. His post-season averages are 30.5 points per game, 12.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.8 steals. This season, he’s averaged 29.3 points (3rd), 13.3 rebounds (4th) 2.6 blocks (2nd) with a PER of 31 (1st). As good as Leonard and Lowry are, Davis would be the best player on the team.
Davis can’t become an unrestricted free agent until 2020. Unlike the Leonard acquisition, you’d have a year and a half with Davis on your roster. That’s two runs at a championship. That’s two off-seasons to try and sign him to an extension. This isn’t just a rental, it’s a long-term rental.
According to Chris Haynes, Davis wants to be in a big market. According to his agent, he wants success. Monday’s statement said “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.” Toronto offers both. Maybe in the next two years, if you win a championship and can pay him the most money, he is swayed to stay. But even if he doesn’t, two years of a championship window is more than enough return to trade your depth for.
You can trade him after this season
Let’s say Leonard leaves and it’s time to re-evaluate and maybe even blow things up. Is it bad in that scenario to be stuck with Davis? No, it’s never bad to be stuck with Davis. He’s a valuable trade asset this off-season and beyond. Would the Knicks not trade him for the first pick in the draft if they win the draft lottery? Imagine Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett wearing Raptors red. Could you pry Kristaps Porzingis away as well, since he has been at odds with the Knicks front office and may not re-sign their long term once his rookie deal is up?
The return for Davis this summer, when roster spots and salary cap space become less of an issue, could be huge. One run at a championship this year, hopefully helping to convince Leonard that you’re serious about success and swaying him to stay holds great value. But if that doesn’t work, Davis still has value in a trade either after the draft order is decided on May 14th or any time before the trade deadline next off-season.
Even after the trade deadline next season, you could do a sign and trade in which he picks a new team and you recoup some assets if he is inclined to get his full max value via his bird rights. The risk of losing Davis for nothing is minimal.
Atlantic Division Foes
Two of the teams that are going to be aggressive in their pursuit of Davis are in the Raptors’ division, the Knicks and Celtics. They both have circumstances that are conspiring against them. The “Rose Rule” prevents teams from acquiring two players on designated rookie-player extensions, which both Davis and Kyrie Irving are under until Irving can opt out of his deal this summer. Thus, the Celtics aren’t real contenders to make a trade now unless they are giving up Irving in the deal.
The Knicks don’t know where their first-round draft pick will fall in the NBA draft lottery. Changes to the draft lottery to combat tanking only give the teams with the worst three records a 14 per cent chance at the No. 1 overall pick. So, the value of a first-overall pick is really watered down until you know exactly where it is slotted. The only way to guarantee you don’t play Davis four times a year is to have him on your squad. Your window to acquire him before everyone can make their strongest offer is now. This is time to be aggressive because your biggest rivals are eliminated from the sweepstakes.
If the Pelicans get petty, the Lakers might not be a viable option via trade ,either. Let’s revisit the Pelicans’ statement, specifying “it will not be dictated by those outside of our organization. We have also requested the League to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.” Aka, we will not bow down to the Lakers and the Klutch Agency. Davis was fined $50,000 for his agent making his request public before the Feb. 7 deadline. This was the worst-kept secret in basketball. James talked about wanting to play with Davis in December. The assumption is this has been a done deal ever since Davis opted to sign with an agency run by James and Co. last summer.
Which is exactly why the Pelicans wouldn’t want to enable this type of behaviour. There is a tug of war in the league amongst small- and big-market teams. The CBA has put protections like the “super max” in play to help small markets keep their stars, but it hasn’t seemed to matter. The San Antonio Spurs refused to trade Leonard to the Lakers and instead traded him out of the conference for less of a return. The Pelicans are clearly upset how this has transpired, and could choose to prove a point that they won’t be bullied by the big power brokers in the league. In the event that’s the case, the non-threatening Canadians could be a viable landing spot Dell Demps could stomach.
The Raptors have already gambled their future flexibility for a one-year rental with last July’s trade for Leonard. You can’t be half pregnant. Why not go all-in and really increase the risk profile? The Golden State Warriors are starting five all-stars. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Davis has only made two playoff appearances during the first six seasons of his career. During that time, he’s played in front of one of the most apathetic fan bases in the league. How would he respond to playing for a championship in front of a rabid fan base? Pairing Leonard with the closest thing the league has to Tim Duncan in his prime and a star that wouldn’t take away his usage rate but would take away the media spotlight would be a match made in heaven for both players.
It’s hard for two players in their prime to both leave more money and a legitimate chance to win a title. In the event you do win a title, it’s almost impossible to leave. The risk you’d take on Davis actually might make the risk you took on Leonard a safer bet.
Stars like Davis don’t come up for sale often. It takes extreme circumstances. For Leonard, it was a misdiagnosed injury and lack of trust. For Davis, it was a mismanaged organization and lack of trust. The same calculus used to trade for Leonard indicates you should trade for Davis.
Don’t hate on the Raptors’ chances. Masai Ujiri got three players and picks for Andrea Bargnani. When the Raptors chances were dismissed, they landed Leonard without giving up any key young players. Ujiri’s first-ever trade was moving a disgruntled Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks with no leverage and he won the trade. Since Ujiri took over basketball operations in 2013, the Raptors have always been good, never dipping below 48 wins. But they’ve never been great. This off-season showed Ujiri isn’t afraid of risk to change that.
If anyone is both able and motivated to get this done, it’s Ujiri and Bobby Webster. And there are many reasons why they should try.