Well, it’s finally going to happen. Anthony Davis will be joining the Lakers next week, or the Celtics in July, or some other at-present unanticipated suitor on the brink of the 2019-20 NBA season. As the folks at Deadspin have done a fine job pointing out over the past few months, this has been a half-known thing for a while, but not exactly news, because whether the Brow moved on from New Orleans or not was his call, and until a report from Adrian Wojnarowski landed on Monday morning, we hadn’t heard anything one way or another from the only dude in this saga who matters. Count that silence officially broken with Davis’s agent Rich Paul telling Woj that his client would like to be traded to a franchise that offers him the ability to compete for a championship. I guess the other bit of bonus information contained in that comment is that the Chicago Bulls are officially out of the running.
There’s plenty of time to mull trade scenarios, and many a basketblogger undoubtedly already has. (You can now hit “publish” on that So, I Fired Up The Trade Machine draft, guys.) We’ll figure out the hypothetical particulars of something that’s definitely going to occur anyway together, and we’ll do it thoroughly, because it’s late January, a fine point in the calendar for that kind of happily useless activity.
Scrutinizing whether Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and salary flotsam are enough to get Davis to Los Angeles is not my forte, nor is it what I’m particularly interested in, but I get why other people find it fun. What I do find worth pointing out is that Davis has tried to make it work in New Orleans for six-and-a-half seasons, and he’s done it earnestly, with squads that were curiously old and creaking beneath the weight of overstuffed contracts, without a proper point guard for long stretches, alongside Boogie Cousins for a tragically brief amount of time, capably sidekicked by a resurgent Jrue Holiday, dowsing the hotter-than-hot Trail Blazers in extinguishing foam last April. Some of this was a good time, and a lot of it was moderately depressing, but all of it was thrust upon Davis. Through management’s labor-disempowering mechanisms—the NBA draft, his four-year rookie deal, and restricted free agency—the league and the Pelicans have conspired to more or less determine his fate up until just now. In asking for a trade, Davis is asserting his agency for the first time as a pro. He’s nearly 26, a little old to finally be allowed to pursue his own best interests.
Davis is no malcontent. He seems to genuinely like the city that drafted him, but you don’t get as good as he is at basketball without being wildly competitive and wildly competitive people want to operate at the very top of their fields. The Pelicans don’t represent that at the moment and they almost definitely won’t at any point in the near future. Hence Davis is looking toward the Lakers, who have LeBron James and a bunch of cap space next summer, and the Celtics, who are loaded with stars and burgeoning talents. We have to imagine the Sixers will try to get him too, and that he would be amenable to joining them because, man, can you imagine the damage a Joel Embiid-Anthony Davis front line could do?
It would undeniably be a great story if the Brow professed his love for New Orleans, stayed with the Pelicans, and four or five years from now, they found the right combination of talent to put around him and won a title. (The brassy-boozy championship parade would break just an astounding amount of laws.) That’s something like the dream Kevin Garnett sought to fulfill in Minnesota for a long time. He eventually gave up and went to Boston to play with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. He was 31. No MVP candidate is ever going to wait that long again for the franchise that drafted him to get its house in order. Call it a lack of loyalty if you want, but it’s also a demonstration of intelligence.
The last thing to consider about Davis’s trade request, before we all descend irretrievably into speculation-drunkenness for the next week or months or whatever, is also the most obvious thing, but let’s put it plainly: this is a huge deal. Anthony Davis is a top-five player in a league that’s currently brimming with all-timers. He’s entering his prime. He’s never had a teammate nearly as good as the ones he will find on the franchises he’s seeking to play for. In one sense, we know how awesome Davis can be because he has to do so much for the Pelicans (often to no avail), but we also don’t have a solid idea of how awesome Davis can be when everything is a little bit easier on him. In the same way LeBron’s game reached new heights when he went to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—i,.e. that three-week run in February of 2013 when he shot nearly 70 percent from the field—we will soon get to see what Davis is capable of with championship-caliber help.
This is, duh, very exciting. It’s hard not to be happy for him while at the same time feeling slightly sick about the future of the NBA in New Orleans. But Davis has given the Pelicans more than a fair shake. It’s time for him to make his own decisions, and chase the things he wants to chase. What happens from here is blessedly up to him.