Make no mistake: The spectacular swap that sent do-it-all Anthony Davis to the Lakers is a gift for the Pelicans that will keep on giving for the next half decade and beyond. Even as trade grades are invariably stacked in favor of the quarter that received the best player in the deal, there can be no denying the humongous gains they made in the aftermath. They could have been dead in the water, what with their top dog already certain to walk away next year with no recompense to them. Meanwhile, the bidding war they hoped for failed to materialize following the Celtics’ understandable inability — as well as the Knicks’ perplexing refusal — to go all in. Instead, they came off with a treasure trove of assets that figure to support their forced rebuild sans the requisite pains.

Indeed, the Pelicans have made two steps forward on the path to respect and respectability without having to first take a step back. Needless to say, luck played a significant part in the prompt pivot. First, they landed an outstanding front-office head in David Griffin, who would have otherwise been working for the Knicks had the latter not limited his control of operations; the crucial hire set off a recruitment process of capable staff that reinforced the change in culture. Second, they found ping-pong balls bouncing their way to nabbing the top overall pick in the rookie draft; Zion Williamson’s impending arrival smoothens ruffled feathers and dovetails with their planned youth infusion. Third, the same balls catapulted the seemingly snake-bitten Lakers to fourth in the draft order, subsequently landing them yet another solid piece of the future.

In other words, the Pelicans pulled off a coup that enabled them to claim addition by subtraction and a steady source of talent for the medium term, and they didn’t even have to involve a third party to do so. The Lakers were extremely willing partners to their progress, so much so that, when the smoke cleared, their position evoked memories of the Celtics’ fleecing of the Nets in 2013. Admittedly, the comparisons are unfair: Davis is already all-world material, and, at 26, still to reach his prime, while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were then already in the mid-30s and well past theirs. Nonetheless, the haul remains commensurate.

In any case, the Pelicans are good to go. Granted, there will be the usual stumbles associated with talents learning on the fly. On the other hand, the outlook is bright, with rational bases for playoff expectations even in the highly competitive West. And with Griffin in the sidelines, there is assurance that every opportunity to load up the roster further will be assessed and, when appropriate, availed of. All told, they’re in a much better place now than before Davis even thought to ask out. No one will be playing the blues, not in New Orleans, and not for a long time to come.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operation and Human Resources management, corporate communications and business development.