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Is Anthony Davis’s Best Chance at a Big Three in New Orleans, or Somewhere Else?

Now that the Pelicans will ostensibly get Zion with the no. 1 pick in this year’s draft, things are looking up. But is that the best situation AD could find himself in this season, or do the Lakers, Knicks, and even the Clippers present better options?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In January, back when Anthony Davis’s trade demand was still just a rumor, he was asked what he wanted out of his career in an interview with The Athletic. “Winning,” Davis said, “… my main goal is just to win.” Three weeks later, after New Orleans had lost six of its last eight games and dropped to 22-28 on the season, Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, sent the Pelicans a formal trade request. It was easy to connect the dots between Davis and the Lakers (who were struggling in their own right), but it was also easy to see that Davis wanted out of the Big Easy. Seven seasons into a career that positioned him as one of the best players in the league, the Pelicans had managed only two playoff appearances and one series win. Davis was not winning. And he decided it was time to go.

The franchise thought otherwise, though, and owner Gayle Benson stood her ground. The Pelicans didn’t make the playoffs, Davis barely played down the stretch, and everyone seemed to just be passing the awkward time until he got moved this offseason. But oh, the irony: Now that the lottery has handed the Pelicans a golden ticket with the no. 1 overall pick—likely to be used on Duke’s Zion Williamson—things have flipped dramatically. Davis, presumably, still wants to win, but which team gives him the best chance of doing that now? One with Zion, one with LeBron, or another? Here’s a look at a few teams that could be chasing Davis this offseason, and the Big Threes they could form with him.

Pelicans: Davis, Zion, Jrue Holiday

Let’s start with the status quo. Unlike the other options, this one is already there for the taking. No maneuvering or cap machinations need to happen to put Zion and Davis next to each other. That combination would create a perfect frontcourt that oozes athleticism and would give New Orleans flexibility on the floor, especially if Zion develops a consistent outside shot. Add in Holiday’s relentless defending and underrated offensive game (he is going to be a perfect guard for Zion) and you get a Big Three that could be elite on both ends.

In a lot of ways, the lottery results put some pressure on Davis, whose reasons for wanting out of New Orleans will face more stringent questioning now that this could be his best chance at winning. This is also the only choice that would give him agency. He can choose to stay; he can’t choose where he wants to go via trade. After the team landed the top pick, new president of basketball operations David Griffin’s message was clear: The team wants to try to keep Davis. And even if the Pelicans hang on to him at the start of the season only to ship him off at the trade deadline, who doesn’t want to—even briefly—witness this incredible trio in action?

Lakers: Davis, LeBron, Free Agent X

No offense to Kevin Love, but imagine Davis playing the role in L.A. that Love occupied with LeBron in Cleveland. Yeah, that would be a little different. Trading for Davis (or waiting another year and ending up with him in free agency), would not only give 34-year-old LeBron a shot of youth, it would also ensure that the Lakers will have a franchise star when LeBron leaves or retires. The real question (aside from whether reports about the Pelicans not wanting to do business with the Lakers are true) is who the third figure in this equation would be. LeBron and Davis alone make for a fun pairing, but with the existing pieces around them, it wouldn’t necessarily make the team a championship contender. A trade for Davis would ship out a lot of the younger players, and the cap room the Lakers have means that LeBron and Co. would have a chance at recruiting Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, or Klay Thompson to join them in L.A. (Will LeBron’s presence be enough to mitigate the stink of the Lakers’ drama?) An underrated option would be to trade for Mike Conley, too.

Should the Lakers get Davis, the fits of the third, fourth, and fifth players, and the bench, would be far more important than they were last season. Given the current war of words between Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, this feels like the least pressing concern in Lakerland at the moment. But later in the summer, there will almost certainly be buzz. Put good players around LeBron and go from there: That’s the perfect winning formula. And adding Davis would take them from a floundering franchise to one with a much brighter outlook.

Knicks: Davis, Kevin Durant, Point Guard X (Kemba, Kyrie, Conley)

Ready to watch NBA fans lose their collective minds? Picture Davis with Durant and Kyrie, all in the Garden. It’s in play, and after the Knicks traded away Kristaps Porzingis last season more or less for salary cap relief, it seems like the team getting at least one big-name free agent has to happen (just don’t tell self-loathing Knicks fans that). Durant has been linked to New York all season long, and even though a report Monday said he may also consider the Nets and Clippers (more on that in a bit), it feels like Durant-to-the-Knicks has been destined for some time now.

Should we operate on that basis, it’s easy to see Kyrie joining Durant, who he’s friendly with, to either play with … [checks notes] R.J. Barrett, or hope that the Knicks can be the ones to pry away Davis from New Orleans with that package of young players. Imagine Davis and Kyrie in the pick-and-roll, with Durant’s dominant scoring serving as a complement—that could all be within the reach of the Knicks if things go right. I guess the question is, in the last few years, when have they ever gone right for New York?

Brooklyn Nets: Davis, Durant, Point Guard X (Kemba, Kyrie, Conley)

A lot of the same talking points that apply to the Knicks can be transferred to their Brooklyn neighbors. Except the Nets don’t have oodles of cap space and potential superstar pairings to offer. They do have things that the Knicks can’t offer, though, like a burgeoning culture and a front office and ownership group that has some stability. That’s more than can be said about James Dolan. The Nets seem like they’re building something of weight that could take on many iterations, either with the same group of young players or a free-agent addition; the Knicks, meanwhile, seem like they’re putting something together using an Ikea manual.

Brooklyn may in fact turn out to be the best landing spot for Kyrie and Durant, given how well-manicured every aspect of the franchise looks right now. The Nets’ package for Davis won’t be as good as other teams’, but maybe Griffin and the Pelicans are fond of D’Angelo Russell or Jarrett Allen. You never know.

Clippers: Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Player X (Either another free agent or a current Clipper)

For the rest of the league, this may be the scariest of all the options. I have no idea whether there’s any connection between Davis and Kawhi, but here’s what I do know: It would be a living hell to play against both of them. Think of the point guards who will try to square up against Kawhi on the perimeter, only to be met by Davis at the rim. That’s nightmare fuel. Kawhi has been linked to the Clippers all season, but given the incredible playoff run he’s still on with Toronto, his deciding to stay there shouldn’t be ruled out. Yet should he end up on the Clippers, like many expect, it would make a lot of sense for the team to also try to add Davis. Their package would have a nice mix of young players and veterans, plus a valuable 2021 Heat pick, which could be enough to get a deal done.

As the Warriors have demonstrated, sometimes it’s not about the overwhelming talent of the Big Three, but more about the fit. But if there’s any chance of pairing Kawhi and Davis together, you do it and worry about fit later. Who cares who the third player is?

Celtics: Davis, Kyrie (If He Stays, Lol), Whoever the Second-Best Player on the Celtics Is

What once seemed like the most predictable outcome—that Irving’s preseason declaration of his desire to stay in Boston would lead to winning the Davis Sweepstakes—now feels like a far-fetched scenario. Irving doesn’t look like he’s staying put, and without that assurance, it would be difficult to imagine Danny Ainge putting all his assets on the table for a rental year of Davis. Of course, if Irving stays and signs a long-term deal, the equation will change. And should that happen, the Irving-Davis combination would make the Celtics one of the conference favorites, if not the favorite.