The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, and Anthony Davis is still a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. After asking for a trade January 28, ten days of drama ensued as Davis was immediately connected to the Los Angeles Lakers. We heard endless amounts of information (as well as misinformation) from the main parties involved, and the hurricane of madness even hit the shores of Boston, instilling doubts about the future of Kyrie Irving. My favorite part? LaVar Ball came out of the cave Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka (must have) paid him to stay in, and told the world LeBron James is nothing without his son Lonzo!
As a Celtics fan, I know a lot of news came out about Davis that caused a lot of anxiety, but honestly, I am not worried. With the storm now over, and the fact that Anthony Davis cannot be traded until the end of the 2018-2019 season, the Boston Celtics are back in the picture. Outside of the New York Knicks getting the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft (odds of that here), the Celtics have the best asset to offer in Jayson Tatum, as well as a bounty of draft picks, and other pieces that should catch the eye of the Pelicans. Will they give New Orleans everything they want? Will they even make an offer?
Well, let’s get into it.
What does Anthony Davis want?
Well, I think it’s safe to say Anthony Davis wants to be a Los Angeles Laker.
Why? I don’t think it’s Luke Walton, but rather, the other member of the 2003 NBA Draft class on the Lakers: LeBron James.
As you may know, Anthony Davis and LeBron James share the same agent (Rich Paul), and through Klutch Sports, we saw a lot of maneuvering to try to get Davis to Los Angeles in a short period of time.
I think this week really struck a cord with a lot of people about the actions of Klutch Sports. Many (including myself) felt as though Davis’ agency was trying to manipulate the trade market in a way that would make the Lakers the only viable option for a Davis trade, and it’s not the first time their actions have been question.
LeBron James and Rich Paul have been friends for years, and when Paul formed his sports agency, his first client was LeBron. Now I think it is fair to question the legitimacy of this agency, and whether or not it is some form of proxy for LeBron to orchestrate player movement in a way that justifies his ends.
For example, when rumors of Paul George going to Cleveland came up in 2017, a player tied to those rumors as the draft approached was former Suns PG Eric Bledsoe, a player who happens to be a client of Rich Paul. Bledsoe has been referred to as “mini LeBron” for years now, and I think there was a reason he was tied to trade talks in 2017, even at the expense of Kyrie Irving.
What looked a bit more problematic was when the Lakers signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope during the 2017 offseason. Caldwell-Pope was initially a restricted free agent, but after acquiring Avery Bradley in a trade with the Boston Celtics, the Pistons decided to withdraw their qualifying offer, which means Caldwell-Pope could become an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers, who were looking for a guard to play with Lonzo Ball and possibly mentor him, suddenly shifted their focus when the young SG became available, signing him for 1-year, $18 million.
It might seem like nothing, but Caldwell-Pope is another client of Rich Paul. By having Caldwell-Pope on the roster for a season, that meant the Lakers could talk to Rich Paul, and Caldwell-Pope’s presence on the roster could be used as an initial testing of the waters for LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. No, Bron was not on the team yet, but maybe he came up in chats from time to time during the year. Once the NBA season was over last year, it became known pretty quickly LeBron was destined for Los Angeles, and I have to think some of the groundwork was laid by Caldwell-Pope’s signing.
How does this relate to Davis?
Well, if you think Caldwell-Pope has ANYTHING to do with James ending up on the Lakers, that means Rich Paul’s clients can be used to help LeBron James’ future. I am not saying Rich Paul is the only agent to help clients on other teams while having a player with one team, but when your client is LeBron James, you wield a certain amount of power. Also, when we know the ends LeBron James has gone to to shift the balance of power in the NBA over the past decade, it shows a precedent for making drastic moves in his favor (see: Kevin Love).
The past two weeks are a clear example of this.
Manipulating the Masses
My interpretation of events the past two weeks leads me to believe the following:
Anthony Davis told Rich Paul he wanted to be a Laker, and after seeing how Paul George and Kawhi Leonard had similar intentions, but ended up elsewhere, Paul was going to do whatever was in his power to clear a path for the Lakers to acquire the 25-year-old star.
What have we seen happen the past two weeks to support this theory?
- Davis asking for the trade before the deadline, versus the offseason
- Davis’ camp denying any interest in Boston
- Rumors about Kyrie Irving’s future in Boston emerge
- A list of teams said to be of interest to Davis, and only one viable team (Lakers) able to make a competitive offer
Yes, Davis, through his intermediaries, has made it clear he wants to be a Los Angeles Laker, but more importantly, I think his agent learned a lot of lessons from the past two offseaons.
When Paul George (2017) and Kawhi Leonard (2018) asked to be traded from their respective teams to the Lakers, there were different variables at play. Each did so during the summer, meaning a more robust bidding war could occur in the form of knowledge of draft picks, and teams with roster and salary flexibility. This means more teams were better prepared at the time to make offers. Another key fact: LeBron James was not a Laker.
While at each time the acquisition of George or Leonard could have been used as a recruiting chip for James, James could not be used as a recruiting chip for them. James was not on the team and putting in express demands trades be made for those players (something he technically could have done with Leonard this offseason). The Lakers also might not have been ready to risk young players for guys on the last year of a contract; if they wanted to be Lakers’ so bad, they could just sign in Los Angeles in a year.
However, as we saw with Paul George, plans can change. George has said if he were not traded by Indiana (i.e. not gone to OKC), he probably would have ended up in LA. With Kawhi Leonard doing well in Toronto, and the possibility he stays there if they win a title, it means that it’s not as cut and dry as waiting the player’s contract out.
The Lakers realize that now, and know if Davis gets onto another team, he could like it there so much, he signs an extension with them instead of going to Los Angeles.
Okay, with this in mind, if Paul has seen this happen, he must know the best way to get his client to the team he desires is by doing so as soon as possible, and making sure they make the best offer. What increases the chances that your desired team’s offer is the best? Making sure other teams’ offers are inferior.
This is where I’m putting my thinking (or tin) hat on.
We know one team can make the best offer in the NBA, and it’s the Boston Celtics.
You know who knows this too? Rich Paul.
So what does asking for the trade before the deadline mean in relation to that?
Right off the bat, Anthony Davis and his camp where giving the Lakers a head start, because as we know, Boston cannot acquire Anthony Davis until Kyrie Irving becomes a free agent due to teams not being allowed to acquire more than one player who was signed under the Rose Rule. He might not have said he wanted to be a Laker right away, but by removing the Celtics from making any offer for 10 days, it showed his camp wanted to take out a threat.
However, Danny Ainge did not really care, and when Woj spoke of Boston’s mindset regarding Davis, he said, “Be patient. Wait for us (Boston), we are going to be in this…” Even if Boston could not make an offer before the trade deadline, they wanted the Pelicans to know they would be willing to tango in the offseason, and with the allure of possibly getting their hands on Jayson Tatum, it would be in their best interest to wait. That, as well as seeing a true bidding war take place in the summer when more teams have their ducks in a row, makes perfect sense if your New Orleans.
But Davis’ camp was not going to be stopped.
“Regarding team preferences, Boston is not a top target for Davis, sources said. There’s a growing belief of uncertainty that Kyrie Irving will not re-sign with Boston, sources said, even though he vowed to do so at the beginning of the season.”
-Chris Haynes, Yahoo Sports (January 28)
Suddenly, we saw some VERY specific pieces of information brought to light.
In the span of two sentences, NBA reporter Chris Haynes said Boston was not considered a top target for Davis, but more specifically, that there was doubt Kyrie Irving would re-sign this summer.
Now that is the first time we had heard anything like this. Yes, the Celtics had started slow to begin the season, but Kyrie’s proclamation in October that he planned on re-signing seemed to put a lot of minds at ease. Although he would not sign a contract until this July, there was really no reason to believe Kyrie’s mind has started shifting until Haynes brought this to light.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose.
Resident LeBron lover (and for some reason, Celtic hater) Nick Wright went to TOWN on this news, tying Kyrie to the Lakers one day, and then the Knicks after the Porzingis trade. Kyrie, who had reached out to James about two weeks prior to apologize about his past behavior as a young player in Cleveland, had LeBron posting an IG story that created a baseless belief he and Kyrie would team up again. Now with a report there was uncertainty about Kyrie in Boston, everyone (not just Nick Wright) had a field day… which was the point.
Suddenly, Anthony Davis specifically does not want to go to Boston, and your own star player might want to leave. If you’re Boston, this means you need to get your own ducks in a row, but more importantly, if Davis does not want to be there, why would you trade for him? The main reason Davis would want to be a Celtic is to play with Irving, so if there are doubts about that being possible, why would he want to be there?
Why, out of nowhere, did we hear about Kyrie Irving and “uncertainty” for the first time in a piece about Anthony Davis?
Davis’ camp wanted to instill legitimacy into why he would not want to be a Celtic.
As the week went on, Davis’ camp made it clearer and clearer he did not want to be in Boston, as well as he would become a free agent in 2020 regardless of where he was traded (i.e. he would be a rental).
Last Friday, as the Celtics were about to face the New York Knicks, a text from Davis’ FATHER reached the public, saying he would never want his son to be a Celtic because of the way they treated Isaiah Thomas.
“I would never want my son to play for Boston after what they done to Isaiah Thomas. No loyalty. Guy gives his heart and soul and they traded him”
-Anthony Davis Sr. (via Ramona Shelburne)
Now if you’re really trying to hit the point home that you’d be wasting your time by trading for Anthony Davis, having your father come out with a statement like that should make the point VERY clear… only I still do not think it did.
Yes, we can say at this point all this did was prove Davis does not want to be a Celtic, but in reality, I think ALL of it was meant to deter the Celtics so much, that they would express doubt about making an offer for Davis, or if anything, back off on offering Tatum, giving Los Angeles a chance to make a better offer in a brief window of time. This has less with Davis apparently not wanting to be a Celtic, and more about him wanting to be a Laker, and his agent doing everything possible to make it happen.
Even as Davis made a list of teams he would re-sign with if traded to them, his camp said it again: Boston is not on this list.
Why mention Boston? Well, I know why, but lets get into why those teams? Each of the teams on that list (Knicks, Bucks, Clippers, Lakers) had one thing in common (except Lakers): they did not have the pieces to make a competitive offer before the trade deadline.
As we saw, Tobias Harris, the best chip the Clippers would have had, was soon traded to the 76ers. The Knicks have that chance at the top pick in the draft, but right now it is an unknown (top 4 at best), and therefore less valuable; plus, their young pieces suck. The Bucks… yeah, the Bucks didn’t have anything close to enough for a star (although somehow enough for Davis’ teammate Nikola Mirotic).
Davis’ camp just as easily could have had that list leaked at the beginning of all of this, without all the smearing of Boston in-between… but that wouldn’t have made people question Davis staying in Boston long term, and certainly wouldn’t make people doubt Kyrie staying in Boston long term.
There was a method to the madness.
Why go through all this trouble?
If you’re Rich Paul, why go about making Davis want to go to Los Angels when you did, and the way you did.
Well, we know Davis could have waited until this summer to say he would not sign the supermax, and therefore start a bidding war then, but by stating your interests 10 days before the deadline, you had to have reasoning, right?
If he wants to be a Laker, and this time was chose, the only conclusion I have is this was seen as the best chance Davis and his camp thought he could get Davis to Los Angeles before becoming a free agent in 2020.
Lets remember something else: LeBron James is not getting any younger. James is 34 years old, and yes, although he is still at the top of his game, it needs to be made clear his window to win isn’t as large as it was in Miami or Cleveland. This alone means when Davis was put on the table, there needed to be urgency on two fronts:
- Boston could not compete with the Lakers
- Get Davis now, capitalize on the time you have with he and James
As we saw with the Lakers reported offer of Lonzo, Ingram, Kuzma, taking on the contract of Solomon Hill, and two firsts (plus other players), they were willing to go all-in and make this happen. They know this was the best offer the Pelicans were going to get, and with the work of Rich Paul, if they instilled enough doubt into Boston’s heads, and Kyrie actually left, it might be the best offer they get at all.
It all looked destined for the Lakers to pull of the coup and land a generation talent to put next to the second best player of all-time, but it didn’t happen.
Having spoken to resident Lakers fan Jonathan Kermah, as well as seeing other Lakers fans express their views, the fact the Pelicans did not accept the last offer for Davis, as well as their demands of four first round picks, I get the theory the Pelicans could be playing with the Lakers by not taking the best offer on the table, and shooting themselves in the foot, just because of how Davis and LA handled their business.
According to Brian Windhorst, the fact we heard what the Pelicans were being offered by the Lakers says they could have leaked the info as a way to get back at Paul for trying to steer Davis to Los Angeles, and they were trying to create some chaos in the Lakers locker room.
Once the Lakers heard the Pelicans demands, they backed out, saying it was too much, and unreasonable, as well as the Pelicans were not interested in making a deal due to the fact no counter offer had been made.
Well, lets consider the Pelicans perspective on all of this.
You have a 25-year-old generational talent who is averaging 29.4 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 1.7 SPG, and 2.6 BPG, and you’re told he wants to be traded. You were not doing as good as last year, and this discussion seemed inevitable, but the timing strikes you.
What strikes you even more is how the decision was seemingly taken out of your hands. For the past two weeks, you see Davis and his camp make every possible effort to set up a trade to Los Angeles, using whatever leverage they had, and getting pretty close. The Lakers, with LeBron James, and enough to make a respectable offer, are of course ready to play ball, and soon offer as much as they can.
The problem is, through the actions of Davis’ camp, the Pelicans could not see a true market develop for Davis’ services. Sure, we have had players in the past say they want to be one place, but end up elsewhere, but why was this different? Davis’ camp was specifically trying to remove one potential suitor from the competition from when they requested a trade, and all they said about Boston. They also put out a list of suitors that could not compete with what the Lakers were offering, once again mentioning Boston in the same breath.
I don’t think this just has to do with Boston. There were reports earlier this season that Davis could be interested in Philly, but Davis didn’t try to put them on any list (which he could have, even if they were not interested, as reported by Chris Haynes). Yes, they got Butler (and Tobias Harris), so maybe the circumstances changed, but that doesn’t mean Davis doesn’t want to be part of that. Plus, if you’re Philly, you could offer Joel Embiid and have a core of Davis, Simmons, Butler and/or Harris. Heck, Imagine if KD came out of nowhere said “okay Philly, if you get Davis, I’ll come and play with him and Simmons.” Yes, a pipe dream (I tried it in 2K a month ago), but the point is Philly could make a better offer than the Bucks, Clippers, and probably the Knicks.
Other teams that come to mind who could make a better offer: Nuggets, Bulls, Kings, Warriors (and maybe more), but by so aggressively trying to create a path for Davis to be traded to LA, his camp changed the landscape of the trade market, something the Pelicans were not pleased with.
Consider this: what incentive did the Pelicans have to trade Davis at the deadline? If they wait until the offseason, they know the NBA draft order, and could try to trade him to a team that has the first pick (i.e. first dibs at Zion Williamson). They could let other teams prepare to form superteams, and maybe if, lets use Philly again, if they can have KD and Davis team up, they’d be willing to let go of Embiid. Of course we have the other fact that Boston can make a deal in July, and New Orleans would not be doing themselves justice if they didn’t put themselves in position to get the most they can for Davis… which is from Boston.
Davis’ camp was trying to take that leverage away from the Pelicans, something the Pelicans did not need to adhere to.
We can talk about the power of players in these situations another time, because Davis has a right to want to leave New Orleans (I won’t sit here and say he’s not loyal to the team, because they could have done a better job throughout his career surrounding him with better talent); he’s trying to do what’s best for his career. However, the timing and aggressive manner he chose put the Pelicans in a situation where the felt they did not have control, and would not be able to see if they were getting the most they could for their star.
Why would you give in if you don’t even need to?
As a Celtics fan, I am obviously biased in what I want (a chance at Davis), but I also think it’s clear that Davis’ camp was trying to manipulate this situation, and that Rich Paul’s connection to LeBron James in all of this creates a possibility of collusion. Of course no one will ever admit that, it’s too late for LeBron to be “retiring” like Michael Jordan did in the mid-1990s, but I still think it’s all a bit to convenient for James.
Nevertheless, Davis cannot be traded until the offseason, and that means the Celtics are now clearly in the picture, and I am not buying any speculation he would not re-sign here. If the Celtics get he and Kyrie, and he just wants to be a rental, that means in 2020, he would be signing with the Lakers, who would have to keep a max contract slot available. That means 30% of their cap, and although they have salary this offseason, that means they might have to just let Brandon Ingram walk in 2020, as well as not extend Kyle Kuzma or Lonzo Ball, especially if they sign someone like Klay Thompson this offseason. Also, LeBron James would be 35, and when the 2021 NBA playoffs begin, he’d be 36; how certain are we that LeBron James in Year 18 in the Western Conference is a better alternative to Kyrie Irving, who is just a year older than Davis, in the Eastern Conference?
The Celtics might not even need Davis. If they go on a run and win a title this season, maybe their current core will be good enough for Kyrie to stay and just keep winning. However, if Davis is seen as an addition that gives Boston the best chance at winning moving forward, and if Kyrie says that they need to get AD or he walks, Danny Ainge might not have a choice. I LOVE Jayson Tatum, but what other chance would Danny Ainge have at pairing a 26-year-old star (Davis) and a 27-year-old star (Irving) in the prime of their careers for the the foreseeable future? We know Ainge wants stars, and if he does not make this move, he could be risking the next 4-5 years of his team in hoping the likes of Tatum, Brown, Rozier, and Smart develop enough into becoming what Davis and Irving already are. It’s not impossible, but it’s just a risk.
Remember, the Warriors almost traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love back in the 2014 offseason, but they trusted their young guard (24 at the time), and it paid off. Would Boston do the same with their young pieces if push comes to shove?
Well, we’ll know by July.
Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)