CHICAGO — For months, the New Orleans Pelicans have had only one path forward: trade superstar Anthony Davis and hope the return is good enough to navigate a successful rebuild. After landing the No. 1 overall pick and the right to draft consensus top prospect Zion Williamson, the Pelicans now have a very valuable commodity in the NBA: options.
New president of basketball operations David Griffin has already pushed back on the notion that a Davis trade is a foregone conclusion.
“We have a long, successful history with Klutch Sports,” Griffin said last month. “Rich Paul and I have spoke about Anthony. We are both excited about what we could potentially build here.”
That comment that was largely accompanied by shrugs. What else was Griffin supposed to say?
But then the Pelicans’ jumped from the seventh spot to the very top of the lottery on Tuesday night. Suddenly, Griffin’s comment is a lot more interesting. Teams around the NBA hoping to land Davis via trade suddenly have one 6-foot-7, 280-pound reason to wonder just how available Davis might actually be as he enters the final season of his contract.
After the Pelicans cratered out of the playoff hunt and sold key key players at the trade deadline, it was hard to see how Davis could possibly stay. But Williamson’s arrival should at least give Griffin a plausible argument to sell that there’s something worth building in New Orleans.
Williamson and Davis complement each other perfectly. Davis being able to step away from the basket would give Williamson room to dive as a roll man. It also opens up devastating possibilities of pick-and-roll situations with Zion and AD (good luck stopping that). Defensively, Davis’ combination of size and length and Williamson’s ridiculous athleticism would allow New Orleans to successfully guard virtually any team they come up against.
Meanwhile, a triumvirate of Davis, Williamson and Jrue Holiday would be the foundation of a team that can compete in the Western Conference once again. One of the league’s most underrated players, Holiday is a borderline All-NBA guard and a top perimeter defender.
If the hard sell works on Davis, not only would New Orleans celebrate that by giving AD a supermax deal on July 1, but it also would have ripple effects across the rest of the league. Teams such as the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers — all of whom have been linked to Davis — would have to move on in their pursuit of a franchise-changing superstar. And that development could alter where the NBA’s many star free agents wind up this summer.
But if Davis isn’t interested in staying, that isn’t all bad news for the Pelicans. Griffin could turn around and trade both AD and Holiday for a treasure trove of young players and picks to pivot to a rebuild around Williamson and his rare gifts.
One pure hypothetical: Davis gets traded to the Celtics for a package built around Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart, while Holiday is flipped to the Pacers for Myles Turner and more pieces. The Pelicans would then be stacked with young talent all in Williamson’s age range.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll get a chance to see just how the Pelicans’ future plays out. But for a franchise that has appeared to have a bleak future since January, a few pingpong balls changed everything — no matter what Anthony Davis decides.