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Will Anthony Davis be a Pelican beyond the Trade Deadline?

Jason Mills
Top 5 / Top 10

Action from New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers
Action from New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers

The New Orleans Pelicans have had an up-and-down history. In their 16-year history, they have appeared in the playoffs seven times, including two series victories and one division title. They have also been unable to keep their star talent happy. 

They had David West, who they drafted 18th overall in the 2003 NBA Draft, and then he opted out of his contract in late June of 2011 to sign with the Indiana Pacers. Chris Paul, who they drafted 4th overall in 2005, was traded halfway through a 4-year $68 million dollar contract extension he signed in 2008. 

By this point, in 2011, the New Orleans franchise was operated by the NBA. A trade for Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers was not approved but Paul was ultimately traded to the Clippers. 

Now, they may have a similar issue with Anthony Davis. Since AD has been in the Association, the Pelicans have made the playoffs twice in 2015 and 2018. For the 2017-18 season, the Pelicans were 4th overall in the Western Conference and had a regular season record of 48-34. They knocked off the Portland Trailblazers in the first round and then lost in 5 games to the NBA champions Golden State Warriors. 

However, for all the positive results last season, the Pelicans are struggling quite a bit this season. With a win-loss record of 15-19 right now, the Pelicans are the second-worst team in the NBA’s Western Conference. This leaves New Orleans general manager Dell Demps with a franchise-changing decision to make.

In 6 seasons in New Orleans, AD is a 5-time all-star, a one-time all-star game MVP, a three-time shot block leader and he is the Pelicans’ leader in points and rebounds every year since his rookie season. This season he is putting up MVP type numbers. 

Demps needs to either surround his star with the type of talent that will compete or make a trade and look to the future. The Pelicans gave Davis a 5-year $145 million contract extension to his rookie deal in July of 2015. 

Davis is now in the third year of that extension and has a player option he can exercise by June 30th, 2019, making him an unrestricted free agent . Demps is under the gun and will need to make a decision very soon.  

The Situation

Action from Miami Heat v New Orleans Pelicans
Action from Miami Heat v New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis is an absolute star. He defends, blocks shots, rebounds, handles the ball and scores. However, basketball is a team game and the Pelicans have taken a major step backwards this season. 

While Davis hasn’t said anything, the suspicion is that he’s frustrated. In 6 seasons with Davis, the Pelicans have only made the playoffs twice. As mentioned, at the end of the 2019 season, Davis can opt out of his deal to leave New Orleans and sign anywhere he wants to. 

This would leave Dell Demps with a humongous hole on the roster to fill. So Demps has to be thinking, do I take the chance and do nothing? Do I try and trade for better talent and try to make the playoffs hoping Davis stays or trade Davis by the February 7th, 2019 trade deadline and move on? It can’t be an easy choice. 

The Pelicans are already the 5th worst team by home attendance at 15,372 fans per game. Any decision that removes Anthony Davis from the line-up likely affects those numbers. The Pelicans are only 6 years and 8 months removed from financial uncertainty when Tom Benson purchased the team from the NBA for $338 million dollars. A loss of Davis to free agency or via trade could be devastating.

Dell Demps does have one really strong card to play its guaranteed money. If Davis stays, he is due to earn $ 27 million next season and $28 million the year after that. We are talking $55 million dollars, plus if Davis finishes out the commitment he signed in the summer of 2015. 

Further, Davis’ value to the Pelicans would be equal to 35% of their cap space as of the 2020-21 season. Any other team could only offer 30% of their cap space. Essentially, Davis would be losing potential earnings. A super max deal of 5 years and $230 million dollars awaits Davis in the summer of 2020 if he's loyal to New Orleans.

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