Kevin Durant risked it all and paid a devastating price. Now, Durant's injury should expedite the Anthony Davis trade process, as teams will see the shot clock ticking down—a countdown that has already begun.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Celtics and Lakers are engaged in trade talks with New Orleans on All-NBA star Anthony Davis, league sources tell me, @ZachLowe_NBA, @ramonashelburne and @WindhorstESPN. Lakers No. 4 pick has been discussed as trade chip to help Pels acquire high-level player in multi-team deals.
With the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics refocusing their efforts on Davis, it would be easy for teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks to think to themselves: KD: Down. AD: Out. What's Plan C?
But there's the other side of the coin still in play—the side that screams the time to strike is now!—adding a sense of urgency to what was already going to be a hectic, monumental offseason for these franchises and many others.
With Durant's attention likely shifting from a free agency that could have reshaped the NBA to recovery and rehabilitation, where does that leave the NBA's biggest free-agent chasers?
Many of them could, and should, have eyes for Davis, a 26-year-old who finished in the top three for Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 2017-18. The Lakers and Celtics are no exception, but with Durant down, the stage is set for an AD battle royal if a few more teams step into the ring.
The Knicks, Lakers, Clippers and Brooklyn Nets are flush with cap space and the motivation to bring in a surefire star this summer.
Durant's Rucker Park legacy and his yearning to gain what he's been missing makes the basketball mecca the ideal landing spot to reinforce his greatness. Playing alongside Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn would give him the chance to earn bright-light recognition as a superstar who could win with anyone, anywhere.
Teaming up with LeBron James may go against comments he made this season, but the two have always been respected competitors. The "other" L.A. has the young talent, space and infrastructure to build a winner around Durant and could even add him alongside Kawhi Leonard, one of four active players with a Finals MVP (Durant, LeBron and Andre Iguodala are the others) and the only one with youth on his side (he's 27).
The Athletic's David Aldridge reported teams still remain interested in pursuing Durant this summer, but squads trying to contend in 2019-20 would be better off looking elsewhere because of the ramifications of a ruptured Achilles tendon that should sideline Durant one calendar year.
Celebrating an injury is indefensible, but Durant's misfortune did benefit one team more than most: the New Orleans Pelicans.
Where NOLA Stands
The Pelicans are amid a negotiations tug-of-war with Davis and his heavy-hitting Klutch Sports Group agent, Rich Paul. Newly appointed executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has made all the right hires in appointing Trajan Langdon, Aaron Nelson and Swin Cash and even used Connie's angel to secure the rights to draft a possible generational talent in Zion Williamson.
And yet Griffin's tenure in New Orleans will forever be tied to the negotiation process of a Davis deal and what comes of it. The Pelicans are surrounded by offers, but Griffin's asking price is said to be more than sizable.
"Griffin is pursuing a combination of assets that include an All-Star player, a young player with All-Star potential and two first-round picks," ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski reported. "Those wants are on a sliding scale."
Paul has made it clear to would-be suitors that Davis will be just a rental, per Sports Illustrated, but teams looking to win now should still chase Davis instead of Durant.
Because Durant could choose to remove himself from the board and spend the season rehabbing in San Francisco, the Larry O'Brien Trophy is seemingly more available in 2019-20. It's not reasonable to expect Durant can return at any point before the 2020-21 season since DeMarcus Cousins' return from the same injury took 357 days.
The potential removal of one superstar from the free-agent pool and the fast-opening seat upon the iron throne should prompt every team within a dragon's grasp of the title into a melee for the league's most available top-five player.
New York Knicks
One of the two teams listed by Shams Charania of The Athletic as among Davis' preferred long-term destinations, the Knicks were always thought to be front-runners in the chase for Davis. New York's trade of Kristaps Porzingis only intensified speculation that it was preparing for something big this summer.
But a few potential targets appear to be long shots. Irving was spotted in Brooklyn at the same club as several Nets players, and Wojnarowski reported Kyrie was "serious about the Nets." Griffin even hinted at that during his time as an analyst.
Walker's finish on the All-NBA third team qualified the three-time All-Star point guard for a supermax, which could keep him in Charlotte. The Toronto Raptors' playoff breakout and 3-2 Finals advantage may keep Leonard in Canada for at least another season, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic (via Ron Gutterman of Lakers Nation).
And Klay Thompson has reinforced his love for the Golden State Warriors on more than one occasion, including unabashedly praising Stephen Curry in a recent press conference, mitigating any thought that he might test the free-agent waters.
These things could remove the Knicks from the bidding altogether. Unloading the cart for Davis and Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris hardly seems a gamble worth taking since any deal would empty New York's draft coffers in addition to its budding talent of Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr.
Each of these teams should be emboldened to try to acquire Davis. Durant's injury made the path to the Finals all the clearer, and these squads could emerge from the fray with a big addition.
Boston Celtics acquire: Anthony Davis
Pelicans acquire: Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III, 2019 first-round pick (via Sacramento Kings), 2019 first-round pick (via Clippers)
The Celtics were within nine points of advancing to the NBA Finals just one season ago without both Irving and Gordon Hayward. Their failure to replicate that success this season was less about talent and more about locker room disruption. If they land Davis, his upcoming free agency could again prove a scourge, or it could provide the Celtics with an outlandish upgrade over Marcus Morris.
Both Paul and Anthony Davis Sr. have tried to nix this deal on several occasions, but we remember a time when Kevin Garnett refused to go along with a trade to the Celtics. Seemed to work out pretty well for all involved.
Clippers acquire: Anthony Davis
Pelicans acquire: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, 2021 first-round pick
The Clippers took two postseason games from Durant and the Warriors even without a star. They were likely hoping to add Durant or Leonard to their ranks in free agency, but with Durant recovering and Leonard possibly celebrating a title this summer, they may not be available, and it doesn't seem like L.A. will shift its focus to Harris. Likewise, Butler doesn't appear to fit its timeline or Jerry West's track record.
So, a play for Davis makes more sense than ever. Acquiring a top player with a year remaining on his contract paid off for the Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers are perfectly positioned to take the same gamble.
Lakers acquire: Anthony Davis
Pelicans acquire: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, 2019 and 2021 first-round picks
The Lakers should be more desperate than ever to acquire Davis. Per Charania, they are the other of Davis' two preferred destinations.
L.A. could always pivot to Chris Paul, Mike Conley or Bradley Beal, but none carries the appeal of Davis. The Lakers tried to get too cute with Paul George just two years ago and have suffered since. They are not likely to make that mistake again.
Given LaVar Ball's proclamation that his son isn't going anywhere and that he would prefer Phoenix if he is traded, it's possible the Pelicans would move Ball in a separate deal for a lottery selection. However, should the Pelicans convince Ball to stay, Alvin Gentry would reportedly love to have him.
Nets acquire: Anthony Davis
Pelicans acquire: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, 2019 first-round pick (via Phoenix Suns), 2021 first-round pick
Suns acquire: D'Angelo Russell
The Nets have a bedrock of talent that Langdon and Sean Marks put great care into building, but it could be time to push all the chips in and call the rest of the Eastern Conference. Signing and dealing D'Angelo Russell to the Suns for the sixth pick and packaging that selection with LeVert, Allen, Joe Harris and another pick for Davis would leave the Nets with Dinwiddie and Rodions Kurucs, and they could even sign JJ Redick.
Davis' arrival would only increase Irving's interest in signing. And the Nets could reinforce the roster by bringing back free agents-to-be Ed Davis and DeMarre Carroll.
The Suns have been searching for help at point guard dating back two seasons, when they exchanged a second-round pick for Elfrid Payton. While Phoenix will continue to survey draft prospects, it seems securing Russell under a four-year contract would be an excellent addition since B/R's Jonathan Wasserman said the draft is tepid after pick Nos. 1-3.