Anthony Davis is having yet another remarkable season for an underperforming team. His New Orleans Pelicans currently sit at 21-24, three and a half games out of the eighth spot of the Western Conference playoff picture if the postseason started today. Coincidentally, the Los Angeles Lakers have the inverse of that record, and would also find themselves on the outside looking in on the postseason if it kicked off tonight.
Fortunately for both teams, it does not, and according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN during an appearance on “NBA Countdown,” New Orleans intends to utilize the remainder of this season to try to convince Davis to remain a Pelican moving forward:
“They want to continue to try to improve this team to convince Anthony Davis to stay there. Dell Demps, their GM, he told me ‘listen, we’ve won two of these games since we’ve gotten healthier.’ Niko Mirotic is back... And he hasn’t had a chance this year to really evaluate their whole group together. They’ve had a lot of injuries, they don’t really have a really long window to do that between now and the Feb. 7 trade deadline.”
To Demps’ point, Mirotic has played in only 29 of New Orleans’ 45 games, though they’ve gone a mere 13-16 in the games he’s participated. Elfrid Payton has missed 31 games and New Orleans is 10-4 when he’s been available. Much like the Lakers, the Pelicans have reason to want to wait and see how things look with a full roster.
Also like the Lakers, however, New Orleans is running out of time and have an even deeper hole to dig themselves out of. The next few weeks before the trade deadline are going to be fascinating to watch for both teams.
Demps is only a part of this situation, though. In this era of pre-agency, superstars dictate how these things go to a huge extent. And it sounds like Davis isn’t ready to commit one way or the other on his future yet:
“Rich Paul, Anthony Davis’ agent, told me they have not had any real, substantial discussions about Anthony’s future in New Orleans with the Pelicans. Anthony’s focus has been on ‘let’s get this team back. Two and a half games out of eighth place in the West, let’s try to get the group back into the playoff picture.’ But there’s no promises about his future beyond the trade deadline.”
Davis’ lack of transparency with the organization makes this all very interesting. On one hand, New Orleans should give themselves the most time they can to either convince him to commit long-term or brew up a bidding war for potential trade partners. On the other, if New Orleans waits too long and Davis becomes too frustrated, he could force their hand.
There are obvious connections to make between Davis, Paul, Klutch Sports and LeBron James and the Lakers. Maybe at some point, those connections will bear fruit for the Lakers, but until Davis demands to be traded and specifies that he’ll only sign long-term in L.A., the most that can come out of that relationship is back-channeled communication on their part and speculation on ours.
For now, things haven’t gotten further than that, and so Wojnarowski says New Orleans is planning to wait to make any decisions on Davis:
”I think it’s safe to say right now he’ll be there certainly through the trade deadline. New Orleans does not want to trade him, and they’re going to have to be forced into doing that, but their focus is ‘can we find another deal.’ Mirotic last year, that deal helped that team at the deadline. I don’t know if that deal is out there for them, but they’re trying to find one.”
The issue with New Orleans’ attempts to find a trade partner and improve their roster right now is how few assets they have outside of those who help them win right now. They emptied their cupboard in the DeMarcus Cousins and Mirotic trades last year. They have a couple expiring contracts to potentially work with, but few pieces outside of those to acquire an impactful enough player to bring them back into the playoff picture, let alone enjoy enough postseason success to convince Davis to stick around beyond his current contract.
Where things get complicated is as they pertain to the Lakers. Brandon Ingram’s trade value is currently residing in the basement. Kyle Kuzma has been mostly inconsistent this season. Lonzo Ball has shown an incredible ability to impact games, but it feels like every glowing recap of one of his performances is followed by annoyed analysis asking him to take over more often than once or twice a week.
In all likelihood, barring some drastic change in situation, this will be a stalemate on all fronts is until this summer, when the Boston Celtics can get involved in trade talks with their immense cupboard of assets. Still, it’s interesting and worth everyone’s time to keep an eye on how Davis might feel about his current organization, and to confirm that they aren’t planning to deal him (or that they’re at least posturing as such).