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New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis walks onto the court before an NBA game against the Golden State Warriors at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

When is the optimal moment to strike a deal?

With each passing day the pressure mounts on the New Orleans Pelicans to maximize the bounty received in exchange for the final year of Anthony Davis’ contract. The approaching transaction has loomed over the franchise since January, but is finally steering into its finishing turn.

On Wednesday afternoon a torrent of reports prompted anticipation a deal could be rounding into shape. After months of relative silence about trade partners and potential offerings, carefully calibrated leaks flooded social media, changing the perception of the deal’s urgency and imminence.

To recap them, ESPN said the Celtics are unperturbed by Davis’ representation claiming he won’t sign in Boston long term, and are fully determined to make the splashy trade regardless of the risk. Then the New York Times chimed in that the Lakers have offered Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft as bait for Davis, but Kyle Kuzma’s name is currently off the table, and the Pelicans are seeking another team to get involved.

Later, ESPN added the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have yet to gain any traction in deals of their own.

It’s a lot of smoke, indeed. Still, there’s no fire.

Yet.

Right now the Pelicans are maintaining their patience and picking through the options. But the myriad of reports are arriving at a predictable time.

In one week the franchise will make a splash, cashing in the No. 1 pick and re-shaping its future around Zion Williamson, instantly drawing a distinct line between past and present.

But the Zion era can’t begin in earnest until Davis is moved elsewhere.


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The past few months, particularly the last two weeks, emphatically punctuated that point. Davis’ representation already publicly targeted the Pelicans’ trade leverage, aiming to chop down on their options by claiming Davis will only sign long term with the Lakers or Knicks, and pronouncing in Sports Illustrated Davis will test free agency no matter where he’s dealt.

The purpose being to amplify a message to 27 teams around around the league: Don’t give up much for Davis.

A trade demand of this sort is naturally contentious. But even by those standards, this one is covered in mud, slings and arrows.

And each passing day bubbles another report to the surface, cranking up the pressure on the Pelicans to make a deal and simply move forward into the franchise’s Zion-led, Davis-free iteration.

But, thus far, New Orleans executive vice president David Griffin remains unmoved. And while the time crunch to deliver a deal exists, he shouldn’t pursue expediency over attaining maximum assets.

And it’s clear two distinct timetables have emerged for Griffin to consummate the trade.

One of them is the present. It’s one week until draft night, meaning if the Pelicans net any high-value picks (like No. 4 from the Lakers or No. 3 from the Knicks), they’ll need time to perform due diligence on prospects like R.J. Barrett or Darius Garland, who won’t visit New Orleans unless they have a first-round pick beyond No. 1.

So they’ll need at least a few days prior to June 20, tightening the window even further for the Lakers and Knicks to use their draft picks as trade chips.

The other timetable Griffin is working on requires a bit more risk. He can wait them all out and not make a deal until free agency wraps in mid-July.

With the Knicks, Nets, Clippers and Lakers all holding a bevy of salary cap space to add maximum contract players, and not enough max-contract worthy players to go around, some big market team with young talent and future picks is going to be left standing when the seats get filled.

Even a star-studded free agent class (which lost some luster when Kevin Durant revealed he suffered a torn Achilles, likely missing the 2019-20 season) isn’t enough to put a top-flight player in each of these franchises, meaning Davis might end up even more coveted than he is now.

If Griffin can stomach the pressure cooker of this week’s breathless reporting and churning speculation, the reward on the other side should be worth it because his asset will unquestionably be the best available.

But there are dire drawbacks beyond external noise and potential negotiation slippage. New Orleans can’t keep Davis on its roster much longer or it risks alienating Williamson at the fragile onset of his career.

So it requires some guts and a lot of heartburn, but it’s the best way to net ready-made players and future picks.

No matter what, this is building to a breathless crescendo everyone wants to see reach its zenith. But it’s better to wait, even if the time strike seems so ripe right now.