Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Mike Conley, Omri Casspi
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Solomon Hill, Wesley Johnson, Nikola Mirotic, 2019 first-round pick (top-seven protection), 2019 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick
Chasing a 31-year-old Mike Conley owed lots of money over the next two seasons would be atypical behavior from an organization that just found out one of the NBA’s five best players wants a trade. The Pelicans are free not to care.
To be sure: Davis’ eventual exit absolutely matters. If the Pelicans want to sell off their other assets, stink for a couple of years and reload through the draft, then by all means, they should do it.
But rebuilding is an inexact science. New Orleans isn’t a market that can necessarily endure two-plus years of hardcore losing. Free agents aren’t coming to save the day. The Pelicans have failed to keep their last two franchise cornerstones—first Chris Paul, and now Davis.
That isn’t a sub-punch at the city of New Orleans, or the franchise itself. The Pelicans made mistakes with Davis. Truckloads of them. That’s a larger conversation. But dwelling on the past won’t get them anywhere. They have to learn from it, not wallow in it.
Bringing in Conley would be a calculated gamble. He and Jrue Holiday are a nice starting point for an immediate turnaround if and when the Pelicans trade Davis. In the meantime, they would play all three. Having Davis suit up again if they don’t move him is weird, but these guys are professionals. New Orleans would have enough talent to justify spending this season’s pick.
Worst-case scenario, nothing changes. It makes more sense for the Pelicans to delay the Davis sweepstakes until the offseason as it stands. If they cannot make an improbable playoff push or convince him to reconsider his position, the Lakers, Celtics and 27 other teams will be waiting with their offers.
And from there, the Pelicans would have Conley, Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, maybe Julius Randle (player option), whatever they get for Davis and all their own first-rounders in 2020 and beyond. Teams have found themselves in far more hopeless situations.
Memphis throws a wrench in this drastic measure if Conley isn’t available. Team owner Robert Pera informed both the point guard and Marc Gasol they were on the chopping block, but a clear-cut asking price has yet to be publicly established.
The Grizzlies will push for more—especially if they believe Davis wears a Pelicans uniform again this season and harms the value of their draft pick. New Orleans has avenues it can explore. Elfrid Payton can be thrown into the deal, the two teams can swap Moore and Garrett Temple, Darius Miller can be added to the package, Randle can be switched for Nikola Mirotic, etc.
Still, Memphis is not armed with too much leverage. Conley has a history of Achilles issues and is owed $67 million over the next two seasons ($22.4 million guarantee in 2020-21). He doesn’t offer great value at his price point. If the Pelicans are helping clean up their long-term books, giving them Mirotic’s Bird rights and including three picks, the Grizzlies have to listen.