• The timing of Anthony Davis’s trade request could be a major hint as to where he wants to play next. If not, it’s at least concerning news for one major player.
By Rohan Nadkarni
January 28, 2019

The Anthony Davis era in New Orleans reached its inevitable denouement Monday, when Davis’s agent Rich Paul told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski the star forward has requested a trade from the Pelicans. Davis is under contract through next season, but he’s informed the team he won’t sign an extension this summer, a surefire indication that he’ll leave via free agency if he’s not traded. Of course, all sorts of baseless rumors will appear now that Davis’s request has been made public. Let’s start with one of the most pressing questions: Is Davis making a play to team up with LeBron James?

I happen to believe that’s an obvious yes! It doesn’t take Oz the Mentalist to read the tea leaves here. Davis shares an agent with James. If Paul and Davis had made the request during the summer, the Celtics could’ve made perhaps the most appealing trade offer to New Orleans, based around a young player (or two) and a bevy of draft picks. But because of the Rose Rule, Boston can’t acquire Davis while Kyrie Irving is on his current contract (or until after July 1.) That means if New Orleans seriously attempts to deal Davis before the trade deadline, the Celtics are all but out of the running—unless they make the shocking decision to move Irving. (You probably know all of this already.)

Report: Anthony Davis Requests Trade From Pelicans

Essentially, I don’t see any reason why Paul would somewhat handicap Boston unless Davis indicated he doesn’t have a strong desire to play there. It’s still beneficial for the Pelicans to know sooner rather than later Davis’s intentions, but making the request public now—and hinting that Davis would like to be moved before the trade deadline—seems to be something of a message to the Celtics. A message like, even if Boston eventually trades for Davis, it will have to put on the full-court press to re-sign him.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Now, there are plenty of caveats here. New Orleans is under no obligation to rush this trade. They can wait until the summer for the best package. The Pelicans also have no reason to deal Davis to the Lakers unless they are enamored with L.A.’s prospects—the same group of players who have struggled without James on the floor. Basically, making the trade request now doesn’t guarantee Davis is going to end up with LeBron (no matter how many photoshops you’ll encounter in the coming days.) What it may do is give Davis a little better chance of ending up in L.A. than if he made the request public in the offseason. (Of course, there are going to be wild cards that enter this race. As we’ve seen repeatedly over the last couple seasons, stars who try to force their way to a certain team—Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard—often end up somewhere surprising.)

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A real galaxy brain reading of this scenario is that LeBron, through Paul and Davis, is strongly suggesting to the Lakers that he wants to be on a contender right away—contrary to some offseason comments. L.A.’s front office held back when George and Leonard were on the trade market, and it’s not hard to imagine LeBron is getting restless as his teammates have fallen out of a playoff spot during his extended absence. Paul’s public declaration is begging for the Lakers to swing big for Davis. If L.A. doesn’t make its top offer, the Pelicans could and should wait until the summer for Boston’s best possible package (while obviously also looking at every other team—it’s not a two-horse race.) LeBron is reportedly already cool on Luke Walton, so it’s not a stretch to speculate he could be growing impatient with management, and Paul’s public comments are now some sort of backroom ploy to put pressure on Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to deliver a winner more quickly.

Davis’s request means we’re in the endgame now, but it’s impossible to know which of the millions of realities he’ll end up in. Paul has already told Marc Stein that Davis has not given the Pelicans a list of preferred destinations. But by making the trade request now, it seems as if Davis is dropping a pretty major hint.

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