Could Anthony Davis change his mind and stay with the New Orleans Pelicans? David Griffin, the team’s newly appointed executive vice president of basketball operations, recently made comments which suggest that may be his plan.
”We have a long, successful history with Klutch Sports,” Griffin told reporters at his introductory press conference. “Rich Paul and I have spoken about Anthony. We are both excited about what we could potentially build here.”
While Griffin may be posturing, the Pelicans ‘should’ want to keep Davis around. In 2017-18, he was a top-three finalist for both Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Having turned 26 in mid-March, Davis is theoretically just entering his prime.
Griffin explained what he defines as a successful long-term plan:
David Griffin: "In team-building, everybody has gotten really lazy in this area. (The flawed mindset is) binary: You have to be either terrible and tank, or you have to win this championship. The reality is that’s not how this works. We have to make small wins every day."— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) April 17, 2019
So, can the Pelicans keep their established core (Davis, Jrue Holiday) together by doing enough this offseason to entice AD to stay?
Griffin could make win-now moves by sending out Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore and the Pelicans’ 2020 first-round pick (post-draft), or he could carve out cap space and target one of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant or Tobias Harris.
While unlikely, Griffin could pad the Pelicans’ roster and present his case to Anthony Davis. However, there’s an important fact to keep in mind: New Orleans most infamous free-agent acquisition to date is three-time All-Star Peja Stojakovic. How could a team with zero history of acquiring highly sought after free agents do so after a 33-win season?
David Griffin could be the answer.
For starters, Griffin’s resume carries a lot of weight. He wields significant clout across the league after having gone to the NBA Finals three straight seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2014-15 through 2016-17 (he won one title in 2015-16), and it never hurts that the best player in the game, LeBron James, has previously vouched for him.
In addition to two top-15 players, the Pelicans have a top-10 selection and gobs of cap space. They also promise flexibility and patience, as Griffin can seek to rebuild in any fashion he deems fit should the Pelicans ultimately decide to move on from Davis.
Based on my quick calculations (which are probably wrong, but close!), the Pelicans have about $86 million guaranteed in the 2019-20 season which would leave about $22-23 available cap space. This would require Julius Randle opting out of his player option, the Pelicans denouncing a couple of restricted free agents (Cheick Diallo and Stanley Johnson) and unrestricted free agents (Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark and Darius Miller).
And yet the Pelicans would need more to sign any max player. They would in all likelihood need to trade their first round pick to offload Hill. Maybe they could get away with only moving the NBA’s sixth-best three-point shooter in E’Twaun Moore for a player willing to take a little less.
Who are some of the top candidates Griffin could target?
Irving might be the most obvious candidate. In addition to his ties in Cleveland with Griffin, Irving has long been linked to his friend, Anthony Davis. The two are more likely to pair together in Boston, but Adrian Wojnarowski and many others have long held fast to the notion that the Celtics need Davis to retain Irving.
There are many who believe the New York Knicks are a front runner for the former Blue Devil. Griffin, however, cited in a recent interview that Irving greatly values culture, something Pelicans’ owner Gayle Benson is implementing in New Orleans.
“I think Brooklyn is the fit that’s better for him in terms of his mindset,” Griffin said of Irving.
“I think he likes what they’ve done there, culturally. I think that’s why Boston spoke to him as well,” he said.
If Brooklyn re-signs De’Angelo Russell, it seems unlikely that they’d chase Irving to place him alongside he and Spencer Dinwiddie at a growingly crowded point guard position.
Should the Celtics fail again to win the NBA championship or come close enough, Irving could pivot to greener pastures with Griffin, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis to escape the growing expectations in Boston.
Durant has kept his intentions close to the vest this season, but his public spat with teammate Draymond Green as well as his quickening temper suggests Golden State may give him the success he’d been seeking, but not the clarity of mind.
“After winning that championship (last season),” Durant told Chris Haynes of ESPN, “I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”
Definitely a long shot, Durant could choose New Orleans over other potential suitors if the cards fall right. Say the Knicks prove unable to land a second superstar, the Clippers land Kawhi Leonard and another star and Brooklyn and Boston fail to entice.
Alongside Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, Durant would be able to shed much of the pressure he’d been enduring in California. Holiday maintains the passion and intensity of Russell Westbrook but is happy to set aside his alpha mentality when a larger ego occupies the court — and it’s already clear just how much Holiday respects Durant. So too could Davis, who took fewer shots than his customary career pace at the start of the 2017-18 campaign when playing alongside DeMarcus Cousins.
In other words, the Pelicans could become Durant’s team overnight but still offer him a great chance to immediately go far into the playoffs. He could orchestrate the offense and take the game-ending shots that made the Pelicans the league’s worst clutch team in the NBA through Christmas.
Harris fills the void the Pelicans’ have sought to satiate since losing Trevor Ariza to the Washington Wizards in 2012. For a team with a winged mascot, the Pelicans have famously had a shortage of valuable long-limbed athletes on the perimeter during their 17-year history.
Like Holiday, Harris promises availability, having played all 82 games this season. He averaged a cool 20 points and eight rebounds per game, but he can also spread the floor as evidenced by a 39.7% three-point field goal percentage. Harris would make for an improved version of Nikola Mirotic, and we all saw just how successful Davis was when paired next to a large-bodied, floor-spreading power forward who can punish opponents in the pick-and-roll and from the perimeter.
The Pelicans five-man lineup of Payton - Holiday - Moore - Mirotic - AD made for an eye-popping plus-30.5 per 100 possessions this season, but Mirotic only appeared in just 32 games in a Pelicans’ uniform in 2018-19. What damage could the Pelicans have induced with Harris in his position?
Think Griffin and his team of analysts won’t try to sell Harris and his camp with these numbers come this offseason?
David Griffin mentions using analytics in a smart way and investing into the medical side and player performance side.— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) April 17, 2019
But ultimately, why New Orleans?
After being in the spotlight for years, Irving and Durant might be ready and willing to just concentrate on basketball. What better place to do that than in New Orleans, a city famous for its lack of NBA coverage?
Either of the two can join forces alongside two of the game’s 15-best players while there should exist trust that Griffin will utilize the draft to acquire another potential star, or deal future assets to nab other veterans, much as he did in Cleveland when he dealt for Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver and Timofey Mozgov.
Though unlikely, David Griffin’s hire has opened the door for New Orleans to keep Anthony Davis — especially if the Pelicans are able to nab that third star this summer.