If you are a Pelicans fan, this is one of the worst Monday mornings you had in a long time, and we all know that Monday mornings suck. If you are any other kind of NBA fan, it's getting quite interesting. Per usual, the messenger was Adrian Wojnarowski
Before we jump into reading the tea leaves and the mechanics of it all, there have already been a lot of comments online about how this is another proof that there is no loyalty anymore. Stop it; you are ridiculous. On June 28th, 2012, David Stern walked out on the stage and told Anthony Davis he HAS TO work for the Pelicans for the next seven years (the same Pelicans the league owned at the time, mind you). For half of their NBA career players don't get to choose where they play and to then expect loyalty is insulting. Davis WAS loyal and signed an extension with the Pelicans, even after they made horrible moves and managed the team poorly; not to mention they are consistently treated as the bastard child of the Saints. In the end, Davis IS loyal because he is giving them a season and a half of heads up that he will not extend his contract so they can trade him and get something in return. You can't expect a superstar to sacrifice his prime in an organization that is limiting his talent with poor management.
Reading the tea leaves
Even though he isn't a free agent this summer, AD is no.1 in the NBA trade/summer free agency pecking order, so everyone kept an eye out for any hint of a decision.
The first piece of information was that he signed with a new agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Paul is one of LeBron's closest friends, a part of his inner circle and LeBron's relationship with Klutch Sports is close, to say the least. Lakers/LeBron connection no.1.
Then we found out AD purchased a $7.5 million house in L.A. ninety minutes from Staples Center. A lot of NBA players spend their summers in LA, but we saw the same move from LeBron before he moved to LA. Lakers/LeBron connection no.2.
Now we have the trade request. There is always a possibility of someone else joining the race, but this is Celtics vs. Lakers. In a clean bidding war, nobody can outmatch the Celtics. Everyone except Kyrie and Tatum is still better than anyone except LeBron. When it comes to picks, the Celtics have all their 1st round picks and first rounders from 76ers/Kings, Memphis, Clippers in 2019. Lakers only have their pick.
As always, there is a caveat. Two things can improve leverage in favor of the Lakers. One is that AD tells everyone that he will only sign for the Lakers, making him a rental for any other team. You won't offer as much if you don't have assurances that he will stay with you long-term. The second one is to specifically weaken the Celtic position, and that is to ask for a trade now. Due to a CBA detail, the Celtics can't trade for AD now if they don't include Kyrie in the deal (which would defeat the purpose of getting him). So until the summer, the Celtics must trade Kyrie for him, or in the summer re-sign Kyrie to a new contract and then trade for Davis. That means for now the Celtics are effectively out of the bidding war, assuming Kyrie is off the table. So this move by AD gives more leverage to the Lakers. Lakers/LeBron connection 3.
Every move KD made in the past 12 months have been pointing to a move to the Lakers. Let's look at things from the perspective of the four involved parties: Lakers, Celtics, Pelicans, and AD.
This one is easy. They have struck out on Paul George and Kawhi, the Lakers have nothing to lose, and everyone and everything is on the table except LeBron. Ingram, Kuzma, KCP (for salary purposes) and you are 99% there to match the money; add picks to Pelican's liking, and there is the trade.
The first scenario is trading now. That would mean Kyrie is going to New Orleans. This is very unlikely and would mean the Celtics are not offering a lot of picks and young talent alongside Kyrie. Yes, there have been some locker room issues, and he did have the knee surgery, but this is still a low probability scenario.
The second scenario is the summer trade. AD's agent told Woj that Davis "..wants to be traded to a team that allows him the chance to win consistently and compete for a championship." This would imply he wouldn't dismiss committing to the Celtics and in that case you offer everything but Kyrie. Reporting in the past told us that the Celtics consider Tatum untouchable, Kobe did infect him with "The Mamba Mentality" (I'm not using this as a compliment), but let us assume he is also off the table. Jalen Brown, Terry Rozier, whoever else they want and several first round draft picks would probably be the offer.
If AD tells them he wants to be a Laker, the Celtics would still probably make an offer, but then not all of these assets would be on the table. Given that PG stayed in OKC and we still don't know what Kawhi will do, winning and being in a well-run organization is hard to walk away from.
Pelicans are near the bottom in attendance, the third most popular sports team in the city (after the Saints and LSU football team) and things are not looking good from a business perspective. Many believe losing Davis will put them at the top of the relocation list. Their main objective should be to wait until the summer and get the Celtics involved with maximum assets. This means a full-blown bidding war and getting a maximum return. This also increases the likelihood of trading Davis out of conference; something teams do take into account. The perfect scenario? Shutting AD down, tank as hard as possible, trade anyone else from the team now and in the summer get Rozier, Brown, someone else and 3-4 first round draft picks.
First of all, it is his right to chose where he will work. He is a spectacular talent and nobody can blame him for whatever choice he makes. If he wants to wear flip-flops and live in Malibu, good for him. That being said, if he is focused on championships, then his choice should be the Celtics.
Even with the strongest package to Pelicans, he would go to a team with Kyrie, Tatum, Hayward, Horford, and still some draft picks to go. The Lakers, on the other hand, would have an aging LeBron and Zubac. We don't know if they can land a third superstar this summer (maybe AD and LeBron know something we don't...), but even then their depth couldn't be matched with the Celtics.
He would be playing in the East which still has the easier route to the Finals. Even if KD joins the Knicks (and that way weakens the Warriors), the West is 14 deep; the regular season is much harder and top-level talent is still stronger in the West.
No-one saw Toronto coming for Kawhi so we would always be ready for a surprise, but if he is traded in the next ten days, it will be to the Lakers. If not, then it is Celtics vs. Lakers, and all bets are off.
Keep in mind, dropping the news on 8 am on a Monday makes sure we will all talk and write about this, putting pressure on the Lakers to make a move now and not gamble the way they did with Paul George. They know their time is now and will probably give more knowing that the Celtics can outbid them in the summer. It's not a given everyone in the Laker organization wants to trade for him now...