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How Anthony Davis Would Fit On The Lakers, Celtics, Nets, Sixers And Knicks

There are deals made at the NBA trade deadline every year, but rarely do those last-minute swaps truly change the trajectory of a season. Yet that sort of potential might exist this season: We learned Monday that superstar big man Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans, which all but means that the Pelicans have to deal him before he leaves for nothing.

Davis is supremely talented, enough so that teams that once said they wouldn’t touch their rebuilding plans are no doubt now counting their pocket change to gauge the cost of a deal with New Orleans. It’s widely assumed that the Los Angeles Lakers will be aggressive in trying to get something done before the Feb. 7 deadline. And there’s seemingly a huge incentive for them to make that push. The Pelicans can almost certainly create an even bigger bidding war if they wait to trade Davis this summer. By then, the asset-rich Boston Celtics can be involved, and the draft-lottery dust will settle, clarifying which club will have the rights to the No. 1 overall pick.1 So it will probably take a home-run offer to entice the Pelicans to let Davis go now.

For the time being, we took a crack at estimating where Davis could go and how five teams would fare with him — according to our CARMELO projection model, which generates depth charts and power ratings for every team — after parting ways with the players it’d take to land him.2

Lakers

Possible deal for Davis: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and picks.

What the Lakers would look like with AD

Projected full-strength playoff depth chart for the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers with Anthony Davis, based on CARMELO plus/minus ratings

EXPECTED MINUTES PER GAME PLAYER RATING
PLAYER PG SG SF PF C TOTAL OFF. +/- DEF. +/- TOT. +/-
LeBron James 4 0 14 21 0 39 +4.9 +1.2 +6.1
Anthony Davis 0 0 0 22 18 40 +2.9 +3.2 +6.1
Brandon Ingram 0 0 34 0 0 34 -1.4 -0.4 -1.8
Rajon Rondo 25 2 0 0 0 27 -0.9 -0.3 -1.2
JaVale McGee 0 0 0 0 17 17 -2.4 +1.7 -0.7
Tyson Chandler 0 0 0 3 12 15 -2.3 +2.4 +0.2
Lance Stephenson 0 19 0 0 0 19 -0.8 -1.2 -2.0
Johnathan Williams 0 0 0 2 1 3 -2.0 +0.2 -1.9
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk 0 17 0 0 0 17 -2.0 -1.6 -3.6
Michael Beasley 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.3 -0.2 -1.5
Moritz Wagner 0 0 0 0 0 0 -2.1 +0.0 -2.1
Isaac Bonga 8 6 0 0 0 14 -1.8 -0.2 -2.0
Alex Caruso 11 4 0 0 0 15 -1.6 -0.2 -1.7
Team total 240 +1.2 +3.4 +4.6
Expected wins 52.9
CARMELO team rating 1645

The Lakers’ package3 — likely made up of some combination of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac — isn’t really a secret to anyone at this point. That group is young and talented. It just isn’t clear whether any of the players possess the talent to become stars at some point. (For the sake of this exercise, we left Ingram out of the deal, though the Pelicans could easily demand that he, Kuzma, Ball and others be included. Their preference remains to be seen.)

Ball, Kuzma and Ingram have all struggled to take the next step this season. That shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. It’s a huge adjustment learning to play with LeBron James and then having to go back to playing without him as he recovers from injury. But it does raise a big question for New Orleans: Should the Pelicans really be dealing away a superstar on the hope that one of these young Lakers will ascend into something significant? The answer becomes even more important considering that any picks the Lakers send over would likely be toward the back end of the first round, because a Davis-LeBron duo would peg Los Angeles as one of the top seeds out West.

In the short term, the Lakers’ full-strength postseason version with Davis would improve to a CARMELO rating of 1645,4 up from the 1589 posteason mark we’re estimating with their current roster. That is roughly the same as the Denver Nuggets’ full-strength playoff rating, but it may also be understating the Lakers’ chances. Would YOU want to bet against a team led by James and Davis in the playoffs (at least against anybody except perhaps the Warriors)?5

Celtics

Possible (offseason) deal for Davis: Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and picks.

Boston probably has the most attractive, cost-controlled assets in the league. But the Celtics are in a holding pattern because of a little-known rule that prohibits teams from acquiring more than one player on Davis’s “Rose Rule” contract via trade. In 2017, Boston traded for Kyrie Irving, who also signed a Rose Rule extension. That means the club would have to deal Irving to acquire Davis — which obviously won’t happen. More feasibly, Boston could re-sign Irving to a new contract in free agency this offseason, which would give the team the freedom to then make a deal for Davis.

The Celtics have several young, relatively cheap players — Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum — who would appeal to any team starting a rebuild. They’re also likely to have three first-round picks in the 2019 draft. With this war chest potentially available from Boston this summer, the Pelicans should consider waiting on a Davis deal if they are not blown away by an offer at the deadline.

Just for fun, though, if the Celtics did trade Kyrie for AD this year — sending, say, Irving, Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele to the Pelicans for Davis — the resulting team would be pretty stacked, with a playoff full-strength CARMELO of 1752. That’s about 50 points higher than the Houston Rockets and 20 higher than the Toronto Raptors, albeit still nearly 100 points lower than the Warriors’ mark. The Celtics currently have the third-highest standard rating in the East, but their playoff rating would easily vault to No. 1 with a Kyrie-for-AD swap (which, again, will not actually happen).

(By comparison, it’s worth noting that in the far more realistic scenario — a Davis trade for Brown, Rozier, Smart and Tatum over the summer — the Celtics’ CARMELO would be 1723, which would also be a 30-point improvement over their current full-strength playoff rating, good for about two-and-a-half extra wins over a full season.)

Nets

Possible deal for Davis: Jarrett Allen, Allen Crabbe, D’Angelo Russell and picks.

What the Nets would look like with AD

Projected full-strength playoff depth chart for the 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets with Anthony Davis, based on CARMELO plus/minus ratings

EXPECTED MINUTES PER GAME PLAYER RATING
PLAYER PG SG SF PF C TOTAL OFF. +/- DEF. +/- TOT. +/-
Anthony Davis 0 0 0 19 23 42 +2.9 +3.2 +6.1
Caris LeVert 0 9 21 0 0 30 +0.0 -0.6 -0.6
Spencer Dinwiddie 31 0 0 0 0 31 +2.3 -2.1 +0.2
Joe Harris 0 29 0 0 0 29 +1.0 -1.1 -0.1
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 0 8 16 0 0 24 -1.8 +0.4 -1.3
DeMarre Carroll 0 0 7 15 0 22 -0.5 -0.3 -0.8
Jared Dudley 0 0 4 14 0 18 -1.4 +0.2 -1.2
Rodions Kurucs 0 0 0 0 20 20 -1.4 -0.5 -1.9
Treveon Graham 13 2 0 0 0 15 -1.6 -0.5 -2.0
Ed Davis 0 0 0 0 5 5 -1.3 +2.1 +0.8
Shabazz Napier 4 0 0 0 0 4 +0.2 -0.8 -0.6
Dzanan Musa 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.8 -0.5 -2.3
Theo Pinson 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.7 -0.5 -2.1
Alan Williams 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.7 +1.3 -0.5
Team total 240 +1.8 +0.3 +2.2
Expected wins 46.5
CARMELO team rating 1560

They may not get much attention in this conversation, but the Brooklyn Nets probably have some dark-horse potential for landing Davis.

Any deal would obviously hinge on the Pelicans’ interest in building around one of the Nets’ guards — either 22-year-old D’Angelo Russell, who has an outside chance at an All-Star spot and is a restricted free agent this summer, or Caris LeVert,6 who illustrated flashes of stardom before going down with an injury earlier this season. Beyond surrendering one of them, Brooklyn would also have to offer promising 20-year-old center Jarrett Allen. Allen Crabbe would almost certainly have to be part of any deal to make the money work, and it seems likely that the Nets would need to part ways with a couple of first-round picks.

It’d be a steep, depth-diminishing price for a team that, after years of irrelevance, is just now finding its footing in the Eastern Conference playoff race. And even with Davis in the fold, the resulting roster, with a CARMELO rating of 1560, would not be much better than a lower-tier playoff team in the short term. But the Nets have long been interested in landing a top-flight star, and this provides them that chance, giving them more than a full season to build around Davis and convince him to stick around.

Sixers

Possible deal for Davis: Markelle Fultz, Mike Muscala, Justin Patton, Ben Simmons and a pick.

What the Sixers would look like with AD

Projected full-strength playoff depth chart for the 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers with Anthony Davis, based on CARMELO plus/minus ratings

EXPECTED MINUTES PER GAME PLAYER RATING
PLAYER PG SG SF PF C TOTAL OFF. +/- DEF. +/- TOT. +/-
Anthony Davis 0 0 0 25 17 42 +2.9 +3.2 +6.1
Jimmy Butler 0 15 20 0 0 35 +3.0 +0.9 +3.9
Joel Embiid 0 0 0 0 31 31 +1.5 +2.6 +4.0
J.J. Redick 0 27 3 0 0 30 +2.0 -2.0 +0.0
Wilson Chandler 0 0 9 18 0 27 -0.9 -0.1 -1.1
Landry Shamet 22 0 0 0 0 22 +0.7 -2.4 -1.6
T.J. McConnell 24 0 0 0 0 24 -1.1 -0.5 -1.6
Zhaire Smith 0 0 15 0 0 15 -1.2 -0.4 -1.6
Furkan Korkmaz 0 6 1 0 0 7 -0.4 -1.2 -1.6
Amir Johnson 0 0 0 5 0 5 -1.2 +1.9 +0.6
Jonah Bolden 0 0 0 0 0 0 -2.2 +1.1 -1.0
Shake Milton 2 0 0 0 0 2 -1.2 -0.8 -2.0
Corey Brewer 0 0 0 0 0 0 -2.4 +0.6 -1.8
Team total 240 +5.6 +2.3 +7.9
Expected wins 60.2
CARMELO team rating 1710

New Orleans has to listen if the Sixers are willing to offer 22-year-old rookie of the year Ben Simmons — the burly ball-handling forward who will likely develop into a perennial All-Star. Simmons would not only give the Pelicans a franchise player, but he would also be on a reasonable contract, which buys New Orleans some time to build around him.

The real question here is whether Philadelphia — which arguably possesses the best frontcourt in the league already — would even consider such a move. The Sixers already pulled off a trade in November for Jimmy Butler and have done well since then — even while some players grumbled over a need for more defined offensive roles. A deal for Davis would improve Philly’s roster on paper slightly, elevating its full-strength playoff CARMELO from 1677 to 1710, but maybe not by as much as a team might expect when adding a superstar of Davis’s stature. And a Davis deal — one that would force Joel Embiid to learn how to play alongside another dominant big — might bring about even more questions about chemistry, since they’d be somewhat redundant as rim protectors and floor-spacing bigs.

All of this suggests that the Sixers might sit this opportunity out rather than offer up Simmons.

Knicks

Possible deal for Davis: Tim Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis and a pick.

What the Knicks would look like with AD

Projected full-strength playoff depth chart for the 2018-19 New York Knicks with Anthony Davis, based on CARMELO plus/minus ratings

EXPECTED MINUTES PER GAME PLAYER RATING
PLAYER PG SG SF PF C TOTAL OFF. +/- DEF. +/- TOT. +/-
Anthony Davis 0 0 0 17 23 40 +2.9 +3.2 +6.1
Kevin Knox 0 0 27 5 0 32 -2.8 -3.2 -5.9
Emmanuel Mudiay 30 0 0 0 0 30 -0.3 -2.0 -2.3
Noah Vonleh 0 0 0 21 0 21 -1.3 +1.5 +0.2
Luke Kornet 0 0 0 5 12 17 -0.4 +0.6 +0.2
Damyean Dotson 0 18 5 0 0 23 -0.7 -1.1 -1.8
Enes Kanter 0 0 0 0 13 13 +0.5 -0.6 -0.1
Allonzo Trier 3 18 0 0 0 21 -1.9 -2.6 -4.5
Courtney Lee 0 11 9 0 0 20 -0.5 -1.1 -1.5
Trey Burke 13 0 0 0 0 13 +0.7 -2.5 -1.8
Mitchell Robinson 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.2 +2.4 +1.2
Mario Hezonja 0 0 7 0 0 7 -1.9 -0.2 -2.1
Frank Ntilikina 2 1 0 0 0 3 -2.6 -1.0 -3.6
Lance Thomas 0 0 0 0 0 0 -2.7 -0.1 -2.9
Team total 240 -1.8 -2.9 -4.6
Expected wins 28.8
CARMELO team rating 1387

Expected wins: 28.8 | CARMELO team rating: 1387

Depending on how a New Orleans deal with New York would look, the Knicks could be in a similar boat to the one the Celtics are in.

Because the Pelicans will be looking to replace Davis’s star power, they might be interested in exploring a deal with whichever team lands the No. 1 overall pick — something the Knicks are in the running for (we won’t have clarity on that until mid-May). If New York wins the lottery, it’s possible that New Orleans would have enough interest in that pick, Tim Hardaway Jr. and perhaps Kevin Knox to make a deal.

But there’s another school of thought to consider: that perhaps it’s better for the Knicks to trade Kristaps Porzingis — who’s coming off an ACL tear and who basically plays the same position as Davis — than to surrender the team’s top pick to the Pelicans. And perhaps New Orleans would prefer to have the 23-year-old Porzingis, who was a known, All-Star level commodity before his injury.

The teams’ preferences at this stage are a mystery. But if both the Knicks and Pelicans have legitimate interest, a few options potentially exist for a deal to happen. Would the resulting team even be any good, though? According to CARMELO, a Davis-led Knicks squad would still carry a below-average 1387 rating at full strength. That wouldn’t exactly be a great fit with what Rich Paul, Davis’s agent, described as the star’s preference to play for “a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.”

Yet the Knicks would have considerable cap space to put another top-shelf talent next to Davis during free agency, which would help boost their projection much higher.

Jay Boice contributed research.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Footnotes

  1. And a clear path to Duke freak of nature Zion Williamson.

  2. Specifically, we focused on CARMELO’s “full-strength” playoff rosters, which are our best guess at which players would play — and how much — when everyone is healthy and ready for the postseason (including an adjustment for playoff experience).

  3. Which may or may not include Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has a de-facto no-trade clause and can veto any idea that’s not to his liking.

  4. Using the same playoff adjustment as we usually do, except weighting it by projected regular-season minutes (according to our algorithm) rather than actual regular-season minutes to date (since Davis obviously has zero real-life minutes on his new team for now).

  5. That would be a fascinating series. More than a few observers would be tempted to give the Lakers a strong chance, given its star duo, yet we project Los Angeles’s CARMELO rating to be about 200 points lower than the Warriors’ mark at full strength!

  6. The deals would be pretty different, depending on which player was included. Russell makes far more in salary than LeVert, which means that more Brooklyn players would have to be dealt to complete a trade with LeVert as the centerpiece.

Chris Herring is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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