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NBA's recent history of trading superstars spells trouble for the Pelicans after Davis bombshell

Anthony Davis requested a trade from New Orleans yesterday.

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.
Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.

ANTHONY DAVIS’ TRADE request from the New Orleans Pelicans is the latest example of what’s become known as “pre-agency” in the NBA.

Star players have exerted their power in the NBA by demanding trades from their teams with their free agency on the horizon. The idea is that, if they’re unhappy, they can force their teams to move them before they leave for nothing in free agency.

It also allows them some control over where they land. Opposing teams won’t give up much in value if they don’t feel they can re-sign those stars. Players will send out signals about which teams they will or will not re-sign with to land in more preferable destinations.

We’ve seen this happen with numerous players in recent years: Jimmy Butler (twice), Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard. DeMarcus Cousins was traded by the Sacramento Kings before they had to decide on him.

The situations weren’t all congruent, but across all of them, there has been one consistent factor: middling returns.

Trades can take years to play out and be properly analyzed. But over the last two seasons, nearly all of the deals that involved superstar players trading teams resulted in average to underwhelming returns thus far. Here’s a look:

  • 2/20/17 – DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, 2017 first-round pick (No. 10, became Zach Collins), and 2017 second-round pick (No. 34, became Frank Mason)
  • 6/22/17 – Jimmy Butler traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and No. 7 pick (became Lauri Markkanen)
  • 6/30/17 – Paul George traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis
  • 8/30/17 – Kyrie Irving traded to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, 2018 first-round pick (No. 8, became Collin Sexton), and 2020 second-round pick
  • 7/18/18 – Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green traded to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick
  • 11/12/18 – Butler and Justin Patton traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and 2022 second-round pick

That’s a lot to unpack. None of those trades could be considered disasters except for the Cavs’ trade of Irving, which went sour because Thomas was hurt, ineffective, later traded, and the pick landed lower than most expected.

NBA: JAN 14 Pelicans at Clippers New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis. Source: Brian Rothmuller

In the other trades, the team dealing the star player got back at least one solid player, which is fine. The Kings basically turned Cousins into Hield, Harry Giles, and Justin Jackson; Hield is already positively affecting winning this season.

Markkanen is already a centrepiece for the Bulls, and they paid LaVine like one.

The Spurs and Wolves both opted to try and stay competitive by getting ready-to-play players over assets. It has worked in the Spurs’ case.

So yes, teams have gotten some pieces, but not massive returns. For how hard it is to land a true star in the NBA, none of those returns have drastically changed a team’s outlook.

The Spurs are still competitive, but will face more obstacles in maintaining their competitiveness in the future or veering toward a full rebuild.

The Wolves got solid contributors back, but nobody who appears to be a true building block. Markannen looks like a nice player, but it’s unclear if he’s a true star to build around.

The only trade that’s turned into a win-win for both teams is the Pacers-Thunder trade for Paul George. Nobody expected Oladipo and Sabonis to turn into the players they are today, and many analysts crushed the Pacers for not getting draft picks in return.

The Pacers got a little lucky. How many “second draft” players like Oladipo suddenly realize their potential after being traded twice and turn into actual stars? It’s a small list. Their return would be even more positive if they managed to get a draft pick back from the Thunder.

Bucks Thunder Basketball Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George celebrates a dunk in front of Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton. Source: Sue Ogrocki

Two things are working in the Pelicans favour - Davis won’t be a free agent until 2020, so teams trading for him have more time with him. That should increase the quality of offers. Davis is also a better player than any of the names above.

The Pelicans will presumably look for players who can help them right away, plus assets in young players and picks for Davis. That’s pretty standard in superstar trades, but the Pelicans, already in a small market where they struggle to maintain relevancy, likely aren’t eager to start a full-scale rebuild around project players and loads of picks.

There’s no pleasant route the Pelicans can take. If they trade Davis before the trade deadline (February 7) this year, they’ll never get to hear the Boston Celtics’ offer (due to contract complications, the Celtics can’t trade for Davis this season) or know for sure if they’ll be getting the No. 1 pick in 2019 back.

If they hold onto Davis, they risk seeing worse offers (as Davis will be closer to free agency), plus dealing with locker room turmoil with a player who wants out.

Such is life in the NBA with superstars, and once Davis is moved, the clock will reset until a new big-name superstar approaches free agency.

***

Meanwhile, in last night’s NBA action, Golden State star Stephen Curry scored 26 points on another milestone night on Monday, leading the NBA champion Warriors in a 132-100 rout of the Indiana Pacers.

The Warriors stretched the longest winning streak in the league this season to 11 as they wrapped up a five-game road trip in style in Indianapolis.

Curry connected on 10 of 13 shots from the field, including six three-pointers and became the first player in NBA history to make 200 three-pointers in seven successive seasons.

He did most of the damage in the first half, when his 23 points included eight straight to break a 16-16 tie midway through the first quarter — a burst that put the Warriors on their way.

“Just a really good way to finish it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the convincing end to the road trip. “I was a little worried about this game. Everybody’s anxious to get home, but we’ve finished off the trip the right way.

“We’re in a groove, we’re in a good place. We’ve just got to keep going.”

DeMarcus Cousins added 22 points for the Warriors, shaking off a scary fall in the first quarter.

Cousins, playing just his fifth game for the Warriors after missing almost an entire year after a torn Achilles tendon, went down hard after Indiana’s Myles Turner fouled him in transition in the first quarter.

“I wasn’t actually hurt, I was more spooked from the fall,” said Cousins, who was slow to rise but stayed in the game.

Source: ESPN/YouTube

***

LeBron James is ramping up his training activity but no date has been set for his return to NBA action after a Christmas Day groin injury, Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton said Monday.

Walton told reporters that James took part in three-minute, full-court scrimmages with the team — the closest he has come to playing under game-type conditions.

“We’ll see how his body responds to that, and from there we’ll take it as far as making those scrimmages longer, or if he says, ‘Hey I feel great, I’ll see if I can play,’ then we’ll make those adjustments,” Walton said.

The coach said he was preparing his team for a Tuesday game against the Philadelphia 76ers as if James won’t be available.

The Lakers face the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday in a cross-town clash before a Saturday showdown with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

James has missed 16 games since he was hurt in the holiday victory over the Warriors, having never missed more than 13 games in any of his 15 prior seasons.

© – AFP, 2019   

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