The New Orleans Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery, and with it, a chance to sell Anthony Davis on spending the prime of his career alongside Zion Williamson, perhaps the most tantalizing prospect the league has seen since Davis himself. “We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George,” Pelicans vice president David Griffin told ESPN’s Zach Lowe on Tuesday.
“We can hold onto [Davis] and let him see what we really are,” Griffin continued. “[Winning the lottery] changes how quickly he can buy into it. It gets us closer. Every day, maybe he believes a little more. As much as elite talent likes to play with elite talent, I can’t imagine any elite player in his prime looking at our situation and saying to himself, ‘There’s a better grouping to play for’ than ours.”
Davis still reportedly wants out. Maybe his preferred option is playing with LeBron James. Maybe he just wants to put his New Orleans days behind him and avoid another season in which his future is the subject of speculation. Even if Griffin knows there is a 95 percent chance that Davis is gone, it was a smart thing to say. There is trade-talk leverage to think about, and, hey, the Pelicans only had a 6 percent chance of winning the lottery.
The beauty of Tuesday’s franchise-changing moment is that there are no bad outcomes short of Williamson declaring he will never wear a Pelicans uniform. Griffin does not have to fear losing Davis; a trade would give him the opportunity to patiently build something sustainable the way he never could in Cleveland. But let’s take the idea of Davis staying seriously. In July, the only other guaranteed contracts on New Orleans’ books will belong to Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill. If Julius Randle declines his $9.1 million player option, the Pelicans could create about $23 million in cap space by renouncing all their free agents and waiving everybody with a non-guaranteed deal.
In other words: New Orleans has flexibility. If Davis wants a fresh start, he could have one without leaving the team he — until relatively recently — wanted to turn into a contender. The Pelicans’ old management and training staff is gone, and they could have an almost completely new roster. And when Griffin said he couldn’t imagine a “better grouping,” it wasn’t just bluster.
If Davis is as desperate to win as he says he is, then Williamson can help. In his one year at Duke, he showed that he is so much more than a supernatural athlete. Williamson is smart, unselfish and versatile in a way that is totally his own, able to every position, a hybrid of a point-forward and a rim-running center. There might never be another player who can be accurately compared to Draymond Green, Vince Carter and a linebacker.
Williamson can relieve the pressure on Davis to carry New Orleans offensively and be the sole face of the franchise. He is strong enough to battle with centers in the paint if Davis doesn’t want to. Next to Holiday, they would form a trio so imposing defensively that it makes my head spin. Picture the three of them switching whenever they want, swarming opposing ball handlers and forcing turnovers. Picture the ensuing fast breaks, with Williamson and Davis finishing them. This is the vision Griffin can sell to Davis now, along with his track record of surrounding the Cavs’ stars with the right kind of role players.
Griffin was glowing on Tuesday. You might have seen the elation of coach Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans’ ticket office, too. Viewed from the right angle, though, Davis was just as lucky as any of them. He has a chance to do something special with the only NBA team he has ever known, refurbishing his reputation and ending the awkward, unseemly saga that started in January. Should he sign the supermax extension this summer, last season’s mess will be forgiven, if not forgotten, like Kobe Bryant’s trade demand 12 years ago. All he’d have to do is say that he made what he thought was the best move for himself, but Griffin and the No. 1 pick have changed the calculus.
With one decision, Davis can mend fences, make an enormous amount of money and start the most promising chapter of his career. This should be as appealing as running the floor with Williamson.