Now is not the time for the New Orleans Pelicans to trade Anthony Davis.
The Pelicans are coming off their first postseason berth since 2014-15, having advanced to the second round of the playoffs before falling to the Golden State Warriors.
Davis is one of only three players to have earned back-to-back first-team All-NBA honors over the past two seasons, joining LeBron James and James Harden. He's also nearing the end of his contract, which could spell trouble for the Pelicans.
The Los Angeles Lakers will be among the teams keeping close watch on the 25-year-old All-Star.
It's often difficult for a team to get a fair return for a superstar with one season left on his contract, especially with the salary cap projected to jump from the current $101.9 million to $118 million for the 2020-21 season.
Most of the league could have significant spending power in the summer of 2020. As such, the Pelicans will face serious competition for Davis' services.
Even if New Orleans lacks the necessary supporting cast to help Davis win a championship, it does have the advantage of being able to offer him a designated supermax extension.
The 25-year-old forward already qualifies for a supermax by virtue of his back-to-back All-NBA honors. Staying with the Pelicans on such a deal could mean an extra $34.2 million for Davis on a five-year, $239.5 million contract. If he's traded to another franchise and re-signs with them as a free agent in 2020, the most he could earn is a projected $205.3 million.
If Davis left New Orleans as a free agent, the most he could receive is a four-year, $152.2 million deal.
That extra financial incentive could keep Davis in New Orleans. The Pelicans would like nothing more than to be a competitive franchise, giving him incentive beyond the money to stay.
If not, Davis will be at a crossroads. So too will the Pelicans, who could look to trade him instead of losing one of the best players in the league for nothing.
Though New Orleans is able to offer Davis the biggest contract, he may not be concerned with maximizing his NBA salary. A better chance to win an NBA title coupled with endorsement opportunities in a bigger market like Los Angeles could spur a change.
Davis signed with agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group in late September. Paul's most famous client is James, which has fueled speculation that Davis could eventually be headed to the Lakers. In fact, oddsmaker Bovada has the Lakers as the favorite to land Davis ahead of the 2019-20 season.
According to The Athletic's Jay King, "Several league sources have said they believe Davis could end up either with the [Boston] Celtics or Lakers if the Pelicans were to move him." Additionally, King reported Kyrie Irving and Davis "have already spoken about what it would be like to play together in Boston."
The Celtics have plenty to offer the Pelicans for Davis, including promising young players such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Boston does not project to have cap room next summer, but it may be able to make a viable trade offer to New Orleans if and when the time comes.
The short-term roadblock for the Celtics is Davis' current contract. Teams can only acquire one player via trade who's signed to a designated extension at a time. Irving is in the last year of the "Rose Rule" extension he previously signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which means the Celtics cannot acquire Davis so long as Irving remains on his current contract.
If Irving re-signs with the Celtics as a free agent next summer, they would then have the green light to chase Davis via trade, but that's also a complex puzzle.
To bring in Davis' $27.1 million in salary, the Celtics would have to send out at least $21.6 million. Unless they include Gordon Hayward in the deal, a package for Davis would likely need to start with Marcus Smart's multiyear contract (he has a $12.6 million salary in 2019-20) along with Tatum and/or Brown.
The path to Los Angeles would be much cleaner for Davis and the Pelicans, as the Lakers can make an offer either this season or next.
If they did so during the 2018-19 campaign, the Lakers would need to send out roughly $20.3 million in salary to acquire Davis. Such a deal would likely need to wait until after January 15, as that would enable the Lakers to include Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and/or Rajon Rondo for salary-matching purposes. The Pelicans would also undoubtedly want some of the Lakers' young talent, presumably starting with Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and/or Lonzo Ball.
If the Pelicans look to trade Davis next summer, the Lakers would be able to absorb his salary into their projected cap space.
That's where the Lakers have the advantage over the Celtics: They can make a deal with New Orleans without having to worry about matching salaries. The Pelicans would still want a significant bounty for their best player, but the Lakers wouldn't have to worry about finding another team for someone like Smart, who the Pelicans might not want in a deal from the Celtics.
In L.A., Davis would get the chance to be a co-headliner with James for one of the most popular sports franchises in the world. Together, James and Davis could have a viable chance to unseat the Warriors.
Davis' decision to sign with Paul is also significant. James and Paul have a tight relationship that goes beyond a typical bond between a player and their representation. They're essentially business partners.
If James needs Davis to help fulfill his legacy in L.A., Paul could help to steer his new client to the Lakers.
The Lakers and Celtics won't be the only teams attempting to pry Davis out of New Orleans. The Pelicans will do everything in their power to re-sign him, but if they expect to lose him as a free agent, they'll undoubtedly canvas the entire league.
The Pelicans likely won't deal Davis until next summer, when he'll have the opportunity to either accept or reject their supermax offer. Don't expect a midseason trade unless the Pelicans fall into complete disarray.
However, the LeBron factor should be taken seriously.
Davis' long-term future won't be resolved any time soon, but the Lakers could be his next destination.