The signals are impossible to miss. The Anthony Davis saga has morphed into the Anthony Davis confrontation.
On Monday, Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans used the most public of possible forums to push their individual agendas, as national news leaks revealed both sides’ battlefield positions.
And for New Orleans it couldn’t come at a more crucial time, as the franchise reckons with the most consequential offseason in its history.
Not only do the Pelicans own the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, but also they’re facing a one-time chance to infuse ready-made talent around that selection (presumably Zion Williamson) by dealing Davis, assuming the two sides are incapable of reconciling. This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Pelicans to reshape their entire roster and identity, but it comes with extreme risk.
Which makes Monday’s news drops particularly fascinating.
The morning started with ESPN reporting the Pelicans are already fielding offers from a variety of Davis suitors, likely needing a three-team deal to net the myriad of valuable assets they desire in exchange for the best player in franchise history. Logically, Pelicans’ executive vice president David Griffin is aiming to acquire an All-Star player, a young player with All-Star potential and two first-round picks, according to ESPN.
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It’s a haul nearly impossible to find in a single partner and plainly shows Griffin’s intent to open up the market to the widest possible array of Davis landing places.
Hours later, Davis’ representation fired back.
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The Athletic reported Davis has “narrowed his focus” and is only interested in signing a long-term agreement with the New York Knicks or the Los Angeles Lakers. This muscle flex maximizes the only weapon Davis has at his disposal — diminishing the Pelicans’ power.
Davis and his agent, Rich Paul, are trying to engineer a trade they can’t execute. So Davis’ camp is doing what they can to inject fear into the other 27 teams, shouting out that any trade consummated is merely a one-year rental before Davis signs with the Knicks or Lakers as a free agent next summer.
This, of course, damages the Pelicans’ leverage in negotiations, considering teams are only willing to sacrifice a bevy of assets if they have a chance of becoming the 26-year old star’s long-term home.
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This comes on the heels of a meeting between Griffin and Davis earlier this month, which both sides considered productive but which failed to immediately bring Davis back on board with the Pelicans. And it didn’t take long for the full arsenals of both sides to get pointed squarely at the other’s weakness.
Davis publicly demanded his way out but can’t choose his new home. The Pelicans carry immense pressure to maximize this one big swing, but Davis is chopping down their possibilities by publicly slashing the field.
The ultimate question is, whose weapons cause the most damage? Recent history is on the Pelicans’ side.
Kawhi Leonard didn’t want to be in Toronto, but the Spurs sent him there anyway, and it paid unprecedented dividends for the Raptors. Paul George had no interest in Oklahoma City before the Pacers traded him there, but he signed an extension with the Thunder last summer.
Those two high-profile deals should embolden the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers or even the Portland Trail Blazers to make a big swing for Davis, despite operating without the safety net of a long-term commitment. And if the league’s recent transaction history shows us anything, teams are willing to clear out salary-cap space to potentially land players on maximum contracts.
Even with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant — whose situation became murky with another Achilles injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals — Klay Thompson and Leonard hitting the open market in three weeks, there aren’t enough max players to fill the league’s max slots. So by mid-July, when some teams strike out on their favorite free agent targets, the Pelicans could still own a significant leverage edge, despite Davis’ maneuvering.
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But this isn’t going to be easy for Griffin. And Monday’s leaks only cemented that notion.
He’s fighting a two-front war.
Whenever the Pelicans push an agenda one way, Davis’ camp messages against them, aiming to limit the field and ease the Knicks’ and Lakers’ competition. Potential suitors will react to it, even if only on the margins.
Negotiations are fluid, and Griffin finds himself walking a thin line, knowing the clock to pull off a deal is winding down.
For this year’s draft picks to be part of a deal, he needs to strike in the next week so he has time to perform due diligence on prospects who didn’t work out at the combine and won’t visit New Orleans unless they’re picking again after No. 1. And while Griffin could hold off on a deal until February’s trade deadline, he doesn’t want to start the season with Davis on the roster but not fully committed, damaging the onset of the Zion Era before it even tips off.
So, the strategies are clear. The pieces are in place. The sides have spoken.
The only thing left to do is make a deal and declare a winner.
But no matter what, it seems at least one side will be parting without getting what they want. If Monday is any indication, the damage could hamper both sides.
Perhaps that’s where this was always headed. Mutually assured destruction.