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Before trading Anthony Davis, the Pelicans need to tank. Right now

And that means trading everyone else, keeping Davis out, and losing as much as possible to improve their draft position.

Detroit Pistons v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans. The Pelicans superstar requested a trade through his agent Rich Paul on Monday morning, with the intent of placing the 25-year-old on an organization that has a “chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.”

That hasn’t happened in New Orleans for a variety of reasons. From botched trades to poor free agent signings to misses in the draft, the Pelicans only have one playoff series victory to show for seven years with Davis. Now that they know it’s over, the Pelicans have to start thinking about what’s best for the long-term future of the franchise.

That should start with tanking. This season. Right now.

Why the Pelicans should tank immediately

If the season ended today, the Pelicans would be slotted at No. 10 in the draft lottery. That would give them a three-percent chance at Zion Williamson and the No. 1 overall pick, and a 13.9 percent chance at selecting in the top four.

With a string of losses to close the year, those odds can improve greatly.

It all goes back to the NBA’s reformed lottery odds, which go into effect for the first time this June. The NBA opted to deter teams from outright tanking by flattening the odds at the top pick for the very worst teams in the league. In the process, they also inadvertently incentivized teams to tank mid-season once it became apparent their playoff dreams have been dashed.

Here’s how the new lottery system compares to the old one:

Lottery odds: new vs. old

Team record (worst to best) Old system chance at No. 1 New system chance at No. 1
Team record (worst to best) Old system chance at No. 1 New system chance at No. 1
1 25 14
2 19.9 14
3 15.6 14
4 11.9 12.5
5 8.8 10.5
6 6.3 9
7 4.3 7.5
8 2.8 6
9 1.7 4.5
10 1.1 3
11 0.8 2
12 0.7 1.5
13 0.6 1
14 0.5 0.5

Washington and Detroit are mere percentage points ahead of New Orleans at No. 8 and No. 9 respectively in the lottery odds at the moment, despite not tanking. The Pelicans could easily “pass” them with a prolonged losing streak. New Orleans also might be able to pass the Magic and possibly even the now-tanking Grizzlies, both two games “ahead” of New Orleans with 32 games to go as of the time of AD’s trade request.

Realistically, the best lottery slot New Orleans could hope for is No. 6. The Cavs, Knicks, Suns, Bulls, and Hawks simply have too big of a lead in this tank race. Atlanta, at No. 5, is already five games “ahead” of New Orleans in the loss column.

Still, entering the lottery at No. 6 would give the Pelicans a nine percent chance at No. 1. Considering no team will have greater than a 14 percent chance at winning the lottery, those are pretty decent odds for New Orleans.

How the Pelicans should tank

Davis is already out of the lineup for the Pelicans after suffering a finger injury on Jan. 18 against the Portland Trail Blazers. He could hypothetically return as early as this week. Of course, that was the timetable given before his trade request.

It’s in the Pelicans’ best interest to keep Davis out of the lineup now, both to improve the odds of their own draft pick landing at No. 1 and to ensure he’s healthy when they go to trade him either before February’s trade deadline or during the offseason. It’s possible Davis may have already played in last game in New Orleans.

But the Pelicans shouldn’t stop there.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Guard Jrue Holiday is having a terrific season, averaging career-highs in scoring (21.2 points per game), assists (8.1 per game), rebounds (4.9 per game), and steals (1.7 per game). Holiday, now 28 years old, would help any playoff contender with his stellar defensive versatility and his ability to be on- or off-the-ball offensively.

It’ll be painful, but the Pelicans should deal Holiday at the trade deadline, ideally for draft compensation and a talented young player. He’s signed through the next two seasons at $51 million, with a player option for 2021-2022 at $26.2 million. That’s a decent contract for a player like Holiday who is firmly entrenched in his prime.

New Orleans should also look to trade its other veterans, including Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, for draft compensation and/or young players. That’ll restock the asset cupboard for the post-AD era.

It’s time for New Orleans to build from scratch

The Anthony Davis era is New Orleans is over. After years of short-sighted moves to try to appease their franchise star, the Pelicans should finally be thinking about life after Davis.

That starts with maximizing their own odds at the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Nothing would soften the blow of losing Davis like landing the No. 1 pick and a new franchise cornerstone in Williamson.

For it to happen, the Pelicans have to start losing big right now. It’s time to strip the roster down to the bone.