Why David Griffin Is Serious About Keeping Anthony Davis

Published: April 24, 2019

Imagine you have a team with an all-star caliber guard in his prime, a lottery pick in the draft, a couple intriguing young players, and a fair amount of cap space. Now imagine you were presented with the opportunity to acquire Anthony Davis at only the cost of opportunity. Would you go for it? Most people would argue you would be a fool not to try and add a generational level super-star in Anthony Davis. David Griffin would be one of those people.

David Griffin made headlines during his introductory press conference when went out of his way to mention his great relationship with Klutch Sports.

“We have a long successful history with Klutch Sports. Rich Paul and I have spoke about Anthony. We are both excited about what we could potentially build here.”

Most people, including myself, were caught off guard by this unexpected public declaration. Surely Griffin is bluffing? I mean after the agonizing past few months, New Orleans as a collective whole is ready to move on from Anthony Davis. Who could possibly want to endure more?  But Griffin doesn’t see it that way. Why should he care about the events leading up the the eventual falling out between Davis and the Pelicans? After all, it was not Griffin who was in charge of steering the ship to its destination.


To Griffin, this situation is nothing but opportunity. He already has a roster with considerable flexibility and a star in Jrue Holiday. That is his meat and potatoes. Adding Anthony Davis to that dish would be gravy. However a plan such as this requires endorsement from multiple parties before Griffin even attempts to sell Davis on the idea of staying.

In order, Griffin needs sign off from the following groups: ownership, Jrue Holiday, and the coaching staff. Ownership approval sounds difficult given the mockery Davis and Klutch attempted to make of the Pelicans, but as a small market owner, Benson would happily welcome back the young superstar. At the end of the day, Davis lifts the ceiling of the franchise like few players can and likely provides the easiest path to contention. I’m going to skip Jrue here for a second to say the same logic applies to selling this to the coaching staff. Alvin and his team would love to coach a winner and the easiest way to do that is with a top 10 player on the roster. Back to Jrue.

I listed Jrue as the second most important factor after ownership because this is truly his team. Jrue is the “franchise” player and has earned the right to be involved in conversations regarding the direction of the team. It’s also something he welcomes.The lens this whole proposition needs to be viewed through is this is Jrue’s team and you’re evaluating the pros and cons of adding Anthony Davis to it. For years the Pelicans have operated off a Davis centric agenda. Every move made was done with one eye on the star’s satisfaction and another on his looming free agency. We have seen the results of that process played out. It’s time to shift the focus on Jrue and what’s best for the team around him going forward. If the answer is Anthony Davis, then Davis will need to learn how to operate in a situation where the world does not revolve around him. In fact, placing Davis in a role where he isn’t artificially expected to be a leader may improve things for all parties. So the question then becomes – will Jrue want Davis back? It’s a fair question to ask given how Davis left his teammates out to dry on the back half of the season. However, Davis’s teammates understand better than anyone that this is a business. Davis was simply looking out for his own best interests. I think Jrue can empathize with that on a deeper level given his standing as Davis’s longest tenured teammate. After all, Jrue did mention how Davis was “90 percent of the reason” he re-signed.


Assuming all these parties agree on bringing Davis back, what is the actual sell to Davis? Well it starts with Davis either being “all the way in or all the way out” as Griffin so famously stated in his press conference. To me, “all the way in” is signing the designated veteran extension Davis qualifies for – i.e. the supermax. By signing this extension, Davis can secure the richest deal in NBA history. This in and of itself is a huge sell and always has been regardless of Davis’s stance on legacy over money. If Davis opts not to sign this extension, he can still come close to netting a deal that approaches the value of the supermax, but this only applies if he re-signs with the team at acquires his bird rights. If Davis gets traded to a team he is not willing to re-sign with, he will forgo tens of millions more dollars. There is a huge financial cost associated with each step away from the supermax.

To establish if Davis is “all the way in”, Griffin needs to make sure how committed Davis truly is to winning. During all-star break, Davis mentioned all 29 teams are on his list of destinations and he is looking for an organization that is committed to winning. Griffin needs to take Davis at his word and show him there needs to be a 30th team. The Pelicans are now a different organization with the resources to build something great. It is effectively a free agency pitch – with Griffin selling his vision of success to Davis and demonstrating the organization’s considerable change in operations. Money, culture, home. That’s a pretty solid pitch if you ask me. Still, Griffin has a few cards up his sleeve that can offer meaningful improvement to the roster over the next year. The Pelicans only have around $75 million in guaranteed salary on the books this summer. They have over $20 million in expiring contracts, with the ability to raise that number by guaranteeing a few small contracts. They also have the 7th pick (potentially higher) in the draft, all future first round picks, and a litany of second round picks acquired at the deadline. The Pelicans are even in a position where they can trade back to back first round picks as they did for a young all-star in Jrue years ago. This is probably the most asset rich and cap flexible the team has been in all of Davis’s tenure. In short, the Pelicans have the ability to aggressively pursue upgrades in both the trade market and in free agency. How aggressive Griffin is will predicate on Davis. All the way in, or all the way out.

Both sides need to be in complete agreement for deal like this to go through. From Davis’s side, he gives up a considerable amount of control the moment he signs the extension. For starters, players signing the designated veteran extension are not eligible for trade for one whole year from the date of the signature. At the very least, Davis faces the possibility of spending another year of his prime with a team that may not be ready to compete. Secondly, even if both Davis and Griffin have a gentleman’s agreement to trade him in a timely fashion after he becomes eligible (something I would definitely include as part of the pitch – secure the bag and find a new home), Davis has to put a considerable amount of trust in Griffin to uphold the agreement. Once the contract is signed, Griffin is under no obligation to meet Davis’s demands. Now there is no reason believe Griffin will renege on his words and it goes against his modus operandi, but Davis is still right to be concerned. At the end of the day it comes down to trust and transparency from both sides – something Griffin wasted no time preaching in his press conference. Do you want to be a part of this? It’s a yes or no question.


Concluding Thoughts

Honestly, until a few days ago, I had completely moved on from Davis. After months envisioning every possible trade scenario, I did not even entertain the possibility of retaining Davis. But the more I thought about Griffin’s intentions and words, the more this just makes sense. Objectively, Davis on a long-term contract is far more valuable of a trade asset than Davis the flight risk with 1 year left. Davis on a long-term deal allows for the Pelicans to be hyper-aggressive in the short term, knowing assets can be recouped by trading Davis in the future. Now Griffin will likely still be answering all trade calls regarding Davis while he is campaigning for the star to stay. The image he will be projecting on those calls will not be unlike the Thunder’s confidence in keeping Paul George at the deadline last year. We are optimistic Davis will come around. When doing nothing is a realistic threat, it changes the market. When signing an extension is a realistic threat, it forces the market to cater to you. That is the leverage play – that is negotiating from a position of strength. Keep Davis, and you keep a star. Trade Davis, and you acquire a warchest. It’s a win-win for David Griffin.  

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