With DeMarcus Cousins lost for the season, thus throwing a massive wrench into the team's short- and long-term plans, the New Orleans Pelicans may be facing a future in which an Anthony Davis trade is inevitable.
Sporting News' Sean Deveney reported Tuesday some NBA teams are already preparing to discuss acquiring Davis in the summer, with the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs among those interested.
Deveney spoke to an NBA general manager who predicted the ouster of Pelicans GM Dell Demps would lead to a belief throughout the league New Orleans would go into rebuilding mode:
"A.D. is obviously a great player, but they're stuck and his free agency is coming faster than you think. It is hard to operate under the gun with a situation like that, so it is something they'll need to at least explore this summer. If Dell stays on, he is going to want to find ways to keep building and maybe even take a chance on keeping DeMarcus. But if Dell goes, there are four or five teams hoping hard for a fire sale."
Despite the fact he's under contract with the Pelicans for three more seasons, the specter of Davis leaving in free agency has loomed over New Orleans for some time. Cousins' ruptured Achilles only adds more uncertainty to Davis' and the team's futures.
New Orleans could still re-sign Cousins, but it's questionable as to whether he can ever be the same player again. A major Achilles injury is basically the worst-case scenario for a basketball player.
If the team doesn't re-sign Cousins, then New Orleans has little salary-cap space with which to significantly improve the roster.
Taking Cousins' $18.9 million cap hold out of the equation, the Pelicans still have about $49.6 million tied up in the trio of Jrue Holiday, Solomon Hill and Omer Asik. The Pelicans also have committed $25.4 million for Davis and a little over $13.2 million between the pair of E'Twaun Moore and Alexis Ajinca. Add up all of those deals, and New Orleans has $88.2 million in payroll expenditures.
According to The Vertical's Shams Charania, the salary cap for 2018-19 is projected to be $101 million, so the Pelicans would have about $13 million to spend before they even have to consider re-signing Dante Cunningham, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen or Ian Clark.
It's hard to see the Pelicans doing anything but treading water over the remaining three years on Davis' deal, and the longer the team waits until he becomes a free agent, the more trade leverage New Orleans surrenders.
The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls got far less than fair value in return for Paul George and Jimmy Butler, who are one and two years, respectively, from being able to opt out of their contracts.
The Pelicans may want to wait at least another year before trading Davis, so they can see what kind of player Cousins can be post-Achilles injury. But the odds of a Davis trade seemingly increased when Cousins got injured.