The Lakers’ trade offers, phone conversations, and private frustrations have all become public over recent weeks as they pursue a deal with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis. With their intentions telegraphed through sources and agents and whatever else, the franchise has essentially become that one person everyone knows who manages to air their personal business online. Still, you really can’t blame the Lakers for doing everything in their power to acquire Davis before Thursday’s trade deadline. Davis would arguably be the most talented player to pair with LeBron James, arguably the greatest to ever play the game.
Given the way that most reports have read this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s Lakers or nothing for Davis’s camp. The teams that AD would reportedly commit to long term don’t actually have enough assets to trade for him, and there has been a lot of pushback from all sides on his interest in the Celtics, the team with the most assets to deal for him this summer. (The Clippers suddenly become far more intriguing, however, after acquiring two first-round picks and Landry Shamet for Tobias Harris.) The Lakers aren’t being cheap, either. They’ve offered Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two first-round draft picks for Davis and Solomon Hill. The Pelicans reportedly asked for even more, though: “four first-round and second-round picks.” If New Orleans wants more than that, there are also rumblings that the Suns could emerge as a third team for Ball—much to his father’s delight—possibly with T.J. Warren and a young player going to the Pelicans. However, a source with knowledge of the trade discussions said the Ball family’s desires have no bearing on how the Lakers or Pelicans will approach negotiations.
On Tuesday night the Lakers pulled out of talks due to “outrageous and unrealistic” demands, the L.A. Times reported. League sources expect talks to resume before the deadline since the Lakers are running out of time and don’t have many other options. Intel can change by July, but as of now, the 2019 free-agent class doesn’t project favorably for the Lakers:
- Klay Thompson is expected to stay with the Warriors.
- Kevin Durant is eyeing the Knicks.
- Kawhi Leonard is likely to stay with the Raptors or join the Clippers.
- Kyrie Irving is a wild card, but as widely reported, the Knicks are the biggest threat to sign him away from the Celtics.
- Kemba Walker is expected to re-sign with the Hornets.
Months ago, Durant suggested to Bleacher Report that many players don’t want to play with LeBron. Regardless of the validity of his statement, there are indeed a lack of realistic alternatives to Davis. Should the Lakers strike out on him, they could be left to choose from a limited talent pool headlined by DeMarcus Cousins, Khris Middleton, and a new pair of Sixers teammates, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Would the Lakers punt cap space to 2020, the year LeBron turns 36? Doubtful. If anything, the 2020 class is even bleaker: Aside from possibly Davis, should he not commit to the team that acquires him, there’s Draymond Green and little else.
The trade market doesn’t look any better. Once the Davis saga concludes, there doesn’t project to be a superstar available anytime soon. Maybe Chris Paul will grow bored of playing with James Harden. Maybe Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will get broken up. Or perhaps the Wizards will decide to sell high on Bradley Beal. Before offering everything to the Pelicans for Davis, the Lakers would be wise to gauge the market for other potential stars. Lillard, McCollum, or Beal would all be wonderful additions, but they won’t necessarily even be available.
League front-office executives I’ve spoken with say it’s no wonder the Lakers are willing to give so much for Davis: It could be their final chance to pair LeBron with a true star. LeBron’s five-week absence because of a groin injury was a reminder of his mortality. It’s also no wonder the Pelicans feel they have the leverage to ask for more. There’s plenty of reason to wait until the summer. The Celtics, Knicks, or another team could potentially make a stronger offer. It’d also just be easier to complete a deal with the Lakers, since trades during the offseason allow for more flexibility with roster spots. As of now, a six-for-two deal would require the Pelicans to find new homes for, or outright cut, four players.
With still more than 24 hours to go until the deadline, though, I wonder what could push the Pelicans to accept the Lakers’ existing offer, or what it’d take for the Lakers to cave to the Pelicans’ demands. But as we just saw with the Sixers-Clippers trade, made in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the teams that make the most noise aren’t always the ones that get deals done. There could be a sleeper team in our midst.
For Paul George, it was the Thunder. For Kawhi Leonard, it was the Raptors. I reported on The Ringer last week that the Raptors and Bucks were expected to make offers for Davis, but that league executives felt few teams could assemble a more enticing package than the Nuggets. It’s noteworthy that Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly was an assistant general manager under Pelicans general manager Dell Demps for three seasons, from 2010 to 2013.
Earlier this week, my colleague Jonathan Tjarks made the case for Denver to go all in for Davis with an offer centered on guard Jamal Murray, possibly with Michael Porter Jr., Trey Lyles, Paul Millsap’s expiring salary, and a first-round draft pick. Murray is more established than Ingram, though the offer as a whole may not be any better than the Lakers’ package. The deal would also be a significant risk for the Nuggets: If Davis were to leave in 2020, it could ruin the special core they’ve built. If Denver, or another team like the Clippers, does emerge as a legitimate threat to acquire Davis ahead of the deadline, maybe that’d be enough to influence the Lakers to dump all their assets.
It’s been only a few weeks since Davis’s demand became public, and a long list of stunts have already been pulled by every party involved. Stay tuned for more over the coming day; time’s not up yet.
Grit and Ground
The Grizzlies are in talks to send Marc Gasol to the Hornets for Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and a protected first-round pick, according to league sources. The holdup at this point is the protection on the pick, per a source; it might be enough of an issue to derail the trade entirely. There is “increasing pessimism on both sides” that a trade will be completed, according to Sporting News’s Sean Deveney. With that said, the acquisition of Gasol would help bolster Charlotte’s frontcourt as the Hornets battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Gasol’s presence would be good news for point guard Kemba Walker. This decade, the Hornets have relied on bigs like Frank Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes, and Byron Mullens to space the floor; none of them are on par with Gasol, even at his advanced age. Though Gasol is 34 and his once-elite defense has degraded, he can still splash 3s and make plays for his teammates.
It would be a disappointing return for Memphis, but interest has been minimal. The Kings and Pistons inquired about Gasol, as reported last month on The Ringer, but there’s no traction on a deal. The Pistons offered a package involving Andre Drummond, who is owed $55.8 million over the next two seasons, but Memphis didn’t have interest, according to league sources. Memphis wanted Bogdan Bogdanovic from the Kings for Gasol, league sources say, but he isn’t being made available for an aging, expensive center whose individual style doesn’t mesh with the team’s as a whole.
The Raptors offered Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas for Mike Conley Jr. and Gasol, according to Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer. League sources indicated last week that Toronto tried to come up with a trade for a single veteran before it turned into a package for both. As of Tuesday evening, league sources say it’s unlikely that Toronto will land Gasol or Conley.
The Jazz are making a strong push to acquire the 31-year-old point guard, as first reported by The Athletic’s Tony Jones. The Jazz are offering a deal with Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors serving as the (expiring) salary fillers necessary to complete a trade, plus one first-round pick, according to league sources. Though Conley is known for his playmaking, he’d be an ideal fit next to Donovan Mitchell because of his consistent perimeter shooting. Conley has shot 46.4 percent off screens over the past three seasons on an admittedly low volume of 106 attempts. Playing alongside Mitchell, Conley could see an uptick in off-ball opportunities.
The Pistons also have interest in Conley, and so did the Pacers before Victor Oladipo’s injury. The sense around the league has been that Memphis won’t settle for a low return for Conley, but there’s a real chance that he’ll be dealt by the deadline.
The Grizzlies and Rockets have also discussed a trade involving point guard Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, according to league sources. Houston has been trying to dump Knight’s salary, which is on the books for $15.6 million next season, and will attach a first-round pick to get it done. It’s expected that Memphis would send JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple to the Rockets. The fate of Conley and Gasol comes first, though.
Memphis will go from bad to ugly if one or both of Conley and Gasol is dealt, along with other veterans. The Grizzlies outscore opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions when both Conley and Gasol are on the court, but are outscored by a dismal 9.7 points-per-100 when one or both of them are on the bench. The Grizzlies essentially go from a high-40s win team to a 20-win team. Maybe it’s for the best. Poor past decisions helped get the Grizzlies into this mess, but increased lottery odds and the chance to pair another young star with Jaren Jackson Jr. could soon have Memphis back on the rise. Over the coming 24 hours, everything we’ve known about Grizzlies basketball could change.
News and Notes
The trade deadline isn’t all about blockbusters. Most transactions are expected to be minor, involving expiring contracts being shuffled around in the lead-up to what should be a hectic offseason. Here are some loose notes on the rumblings around the league:
- The Clippers’ deal sending Harris to the Sixers for Shamet and picks is a sign that they aren’t prioritizing making the playoffs this season. If the Clippers miss the postseason, they will keep their top-14-protected first-round pick that’s owed to the Celtics (and it would become top-14 protected in 2020). Expect them to be active over the next day: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Danilo Gallinari could all help a playoff contender.
- In the aftermath of the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Knicks have three major expiring contracts on their roster: center DeAndre Jordan, center Enes Kanter, and wing Wesley Matthews. It’s unclear which players will be waived, but expect plenty of interest on the secondhand market. The Raptors, Rockets, Warriors, and 76ers are expected to pursue Matthews if he becomes available. Don’t be surprised if the Knicks hold on to Jordan as part of a much broader pitch to their no. 1 free-agent target, Kevin Durant. Jordan is one of Durant’s longtime friends, and perhaps he and Royal Ivey (a Knicks assistant coach who Durant has called his favorite teammate) could be used as recruiters. The Knicks can’t leave any stone unturned in their quest for a legitimate superstar.
- The Hawks still haven’t found new homes for the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin ($13.7 million) and Dewayne Dedmon ($7.2 million). The Sixers have made calls about Dedmon, according to league sources, as they’re in need of an upgrade over backup center Amir Johnson.
- The Cavaliers have already dealt Rodney Hood to the Blazers ahead of the deadline, and there could be more trades to come. The Cavs have the expiring salaries of Alec Burks ($11.5 million) and J.R. Smith ($14.7 million), though Smith’s deal contains a partial guarantee for 2019-20 ($3.9 million).
- The Thunder are said to have interest in Burks as they scope out the market for a backup wing, according to league sources. Oklahoma City has a $10.9 million traded-player exception to use to absorb a salary. The Thunder have also inquired about Hawks forward Taurean Prince, who I reported was available last month on The Ringer NBA Show. In addition to the Thunder, league sources say the Sixers and Blazers have expressed interest in the 3-and-D forward.
- Don’t be surprised if the Wizards explore deals involving Trevor Ariza, whom they acquired from the Suns in December. Teams that expressed interest in trading for him the first time around, such as the Lakers, still retain it, according to league sources.
- The Nets are surging, so they may not want to compromise team chemistry by making a deal, but DeMarre Carroll ($14.5 millon) and Jared Dudley ($10 million) both have appealing expiring deals.
- One player who doesn’t appear to be available but maybe should be is Magic center Nikola Vucevic, an unrestricted free agent this summer. A trade would have cleared room for Mo Bamba, though that is no longer a priority with Bamba reportedly out for a significant amount of time due to a stress fracture in his left leg. Vucevic, 28, is still young and productive enough to be considered a keeper unless the Magic get an overwhelming offer.
- League sources don’t expect the Celtics to move point guard Terry Rozier, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. Unless Boston is blown away, Rozier is viewed as insurance in case Kyrie Irving leaves, or as a potential sign-and-trade sweetener in a move for Anthony Davis.
- The Pacers are still open to moving one of their two point guards, Darren Collison ($10 million) or Cory Joseph ($7.9 million), which would free even more playing time for rookie Aaron Holiday, who has seen a bump in minutes after Victor Oladipo’s knee injury.
- The Kings have $37 million in expiring deals, including Zach Randolph ($11.7 million) and Iman Shumpert ($11 millon), and $11 million in cap room. Sacramento has made calls about Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes and Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr., though they’ve made no traction in a trade for Porter, according to league sources.
- Any team in need of a wing should call the Heat about Wayne Ellington, who has become the odd man out in their crowded rotation. Ellington, 31, is on an expiring contract.
- The Pelicans offered Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore in a deal for Jimmy Butler before he was dealt to Philly, and while that offer obviously went nowhere, both Pelicans role players remain available today. Unfortunately for New Orleans, they’d be selling, not buying.
Will Youth Be Served?
Most teams employ pro-personnel scouts who aim to find overlooked, undervalued, or misutilized players for their teams to target in a trade. These are just a few names to keep in mind as the deadline looms.
Frank Ntilikina, Knicks: He has a 41.9 true shooting percentage, which is worse than any other player in the NBA. Only six players who attempted at least 250 shots in a season have been worse this decade. Ntilikina can’t shoot, and he can’t dribble. That’s a problem for a point guard, but Ntilikina shouldn’t be viewed as an ordinary point guard. What Ntilikina can do, though, is effectively defend multiple positions and make smart decisions as a passer. Ntilikina would do best in a situation next to a primary shot creator, and maybe now that the Knicks acquired Dennis Smith Jr., his strengths will be highlighted. New York’s new addition could incentivize it to make a move, though, since it was clear even before the draft that Ntilikina would be a long-term developmental project. If Ntilikina can develop his spot-up jumper, he’ll be a quality role player for years to come. Who will make the investment?
Malik Monk, Hornets: Ntilikina is the inverse Monk, who is allergic to defense and to making smart decisions, but can shoot and handle the rock. Monk didn’t vibe with Steve Clifford, and his role has been marginal under new Hornets head coach James Borrego. A new environment that feeds him more opportunity could allow him to work through mistakes. Monk, with his lean frame, will always be a defensive liability, but he has offensive upside comparable to that of Zach LaVine, Lou Williams, or J.R. Smith. If Monk can be acquired for cheap, he’s worth a shot.
Luke Kennard, Pistons: He entered the 2017 draft as more than a spot-up shooter. He had pristine footwork shooting on the move and a feel for creating space. Kennard drew comparisons to fellow Duke alumnus JJ Redick. It took Redick years to develop into a competent pro, though, as he had to improve his defense to even stay on the floor. Kennard might be in the throes of the same early-career struggles, though his shooting, which was supposed to be his saving grace, hasn’t quite popped, either. The Pistons play at a slow pace with little ball movement and rarely run shooters off screens. Kennard’s at his best, like he was in college, playing at a faster pace with multiple ball handlers empowered to make plays for others. Redick was a late bloomer under Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. Maybe time is all Kennard needs.
Semi Ojeleye, Celtics: Ojeleye’s nicknames on Basketball-Reference include: “Muscles Jesus,” “Thor,” and “The Man Made of Granite.” The Celtics power wing deserves all of them. He has cartoonish muscles, and he uses them to defend multiple positions and serve as a small-ball center. Ojeleye is a subpar 3-point shooter, at 31.1 percent for his career, but that’s a passable number considering his frequent role as a “big,” not a wing. Boston uses Ojeleye as an occasional weapon off the bench, playing only 10.5 minutes in 39 games, but maybe another team could see him as something more.
Dario Saric, Timberwolves: His playing time has dwindled with the Timberwolves, especially since Ryan Saunders took over for Tom Thibodeau. As I’ve written before, Saric would be best on a team that activates the playmaking skills that he showed as an MVP in the Adriatic League and as a EuroLeague rising star.
Cheick Diallo, Pelicans: With Montrezl Harrell shining for the Clippers, and the Kenneth Faried renaissance happening in Houston, the next rim runner to emerge could be Diallo. The 22-year-old center has struggled in his third season with the Pelicans, as he still hasn’t improved his defensive fundamentals. But he’s a bargain option for teams looking to take a flyer on an athletic finisher and shot-blocker.
Sterling Brown, Bucks: He’s only a part-time player for Milwaukee, though at age 23, he has 3-and-D potential. Brown grinds on defense, makes the right plays offensively, and is a solid shooter.