The rumors linking Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers are heating up. LA needs another star to pair with LeBron James, and James has been vocal about his desire to add Davis. However, the New Orleans Pelicans aren’t obligated to give Davis to the Lakers, and if they feel that trading Davis is inevitable, they will send him to the highest bidder.
Small-market teams like the Milwaukee Bucks may be at a disadvantage in free agent negotiations, but as far as trades go, the playing field is much more even. Milwaukee may not have the most to offer, but can certainly put together a compelling package that would create arguably the most terrifying 1-2 punch of the decade in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.
The first step in coming up with a trade package is to determine what the Pelicans will be asking for. In this scenario, Davis is all but certain to leave town after his contract expires, which is after the 2019-2020 season. This means that if a team trades for him prior to the February seventh deadline, that team will have Davis for a minimum of one-and-a-half seasons, during that time they can attempt to compete for a championship and convince Davis to re-sign for the long-term.
The problem is that it is unlikely Davis will stay with a team that is not ready to compete for a championship with the likes of Golden State. In fact, with his recent comments, it is not unreasonable to assume he will enter free agency no matter what.
This makes a Davis trade incredibly risky for a team like Milwaukee. Even with a player like Antetokounmpo, does adding Davis really put them on par with the Warriors?
That is a question for another day. Right now we are concerned with how the Bucks can theoretically acquire the power forward. If the Pelicans are doubtful of their chances of retaining Davis, it would be best for them to enter a full-on rebuild. This means shedding salary and adding future draft picks and young players. Even if Davis is a year-and-a-half rental, he will still fetch a good return. Milwaukee happens to have a young core that would jump-start New Orleans’ rebuild quite nicely.
In this situation, the Pelicans should be interested in moving point guard Jrue Holiday along with Davis. Holiday is an excellent player, and would be a significant upgrade over Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe. However, adding both players would require the Bucks to take on over $50 million in salary, which would be quite difficult. Doing so would hamstring Milwaukee financially, but a Big Three of Holiday, Antetokounmpo, and Davis is very good.
If the Bucks aren’t interested in tying themselves down with Holiday’s contract, they should still offer to take on Solomon Hill’s deal, which pays him over $12 million per year. Milwaukee’s best financial asset is George Hill, who makes $19 million this year but is guaranteed only $1 million if cut in the offseason. Hill is required in any deal for both Davis and Holiday, and is a player the Pelicans should want included in a Davis-only trade because of the cap flexibility he would provide.
New Orleans should also ask for Khris Middleton, but not because he is a good player. Middleton has a player option for next season which will pay him $13 million. He is all but guaranteed to decline this and test the market, where he could very well receive a max contract offer. That’s $13 million more off the Pelicans’ books.
Now for the real assets. First-round picks in 2020 and 2022 could hold high value on the chance that Davis walks in 2019 and Antetokounmpo leaves town two years later. Milwaukee should fight for as much protection as they can get, but that would most likely be top-five protection at the most. The Bucks have to make this trade worth the Pelicans’ while.
Donte DiVincenzo, the 17th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, is a 21-year-old shooting guard who shot 40% from beyond the arc last year for Villanova. He has yet to make an impact in the NBA, but he has plenty of time to develop. The same goes for big man Thon Maker, who needs more than 12 minutes per game to improve. He was incredibly raw entering the league and just hasn’t gotten the chance to develop properly. A rebuilding team like the future Pelicans would be the perfect place for him to make mistakes and grow without costing his team. If Maker ever comes close to his potential, New Orleans will have gotten some very good compensation for Davis.
The final young player who the Pelicans should demand is Malcolm Brogdon, the 2016-2017 Rookie of the Year who is having his best season, averaging 15.1 points on 51% shooting, including 45% from three-point range. Brogdon can player either guard spot, so Holiday’s presence (or lack thereof) would not have a large impact on his performance.
In order to balance the players coming and going, Milwaukee would also receive some cheaper players who are not in New Orleans’ future plans, such as Jahlil Okafor and Elfrid Payton. After some aggressive negotiations, a final trade would look something like this:
MIL receives: PG Elfrid Payton, SF Solomon Hill, PF Anthony Davis, C Jahlil Okafor
NOP receives: PG George Hill, SG Malcolm Brogdon, SG Donte DiVincenzo, SF Khris Middleton, PF Thon Maker, 2020 and 2022 MIL first-round picks (Top-five protected)
This probably is not the best offer that New Orleans could find, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and it’s the best that the Bucks can do. The Pelicans get future draft picks, three young players to begin their new core, and salary relief, while Milwaukee winds up with arguably two top-five players.
Is it enough to win a championship? Probably not, but the Bucks certainly aren’t getting there with how their team is currently constructed. A big move is needed to make them a legitimate contender, and what better way to take that risk than to land the best player available? It may last for less than two seasons, but a team with both Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo would be must-see TV.