Anthony Davis’ breakup with the Pelicans exposes immaturity of supposed superstar
When I write, I usually like to have music playing in the background. As I sat down to write this post, excited about their addition to the lineup of the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, I put on a little Widespread Panic. As the songs shuffled, their tune, “Better Off,” came on and got me to thinking about the Pelicans’ situation with disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis.
As has been reported since roughly midseason, Davis effectively quit on the Pelicans in the middle of the season when he said he didn’t see the team in his future and would not sign a contract extension, worth about $240 million over five years, to stay with the only NBA team he has played for. In fact, he’s signaled that he’s willing to chose a lower pay day to play elsewhere and demanded a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. When a suitable swap couldn’t be made, the remainder of the season for the team was essentially wrecked. Davis “spat” in the Pelicans’ figurative bed, and no one was going to get comfortable after he did so.
Fans seemed split on Davis’ decision. Some looked at the Pelicans’ inability to get past the second round of the NBA Playoffs and wished him the best in chasing his championship dreams with another team. The vast majority of proud, die hard New Orleanians, however, questioned him as a man, leader, and, supposed position elite players in the game.
This week, the tragic 2018-19 regular season came to a close. As he entered the Smoothie King Center for what will likely be his last game with the Pelicans, Davis wore a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of the closing scene of Looney Tunes cartoons with the famous “That’s All, Folks!” tagline. He and his “handlers” may have thought it was funny, but it proved the 26-year-old has a lot of maturing to do.
Davis can be upset that the Pelicans weren’t among the top-seeded playoff contenders in his tenure with the team, but he needs to look in the mirror and put more of the responsibility for those failures on himself. Sure, he has tremendous ability. He came into the NBA as a prodigy and showed tremendous potential. In fact, before this season started, the association’s general managers selected him as the league’s best center and power forward. But what did he do with it?
In this day in age, many of the NBA’s most talented players are grouping up to form super teams whose starting talent rivals that of all-star teams. The best have and are able to recruit other stars to their teams – that’s what LeBron James in trying to get Davis to the Lakers – but Davis never really showed an ability or interest in leading efforts to recruit players to New Orleans to make his team better and more competitive. Sure, the Pelicans had DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo last year, but both flew the coop in the offseason to join the talent-loaded Golden State Warriors and reformed Lakers, respectively.
Stuck in New Orleans for the end of the current season, Davis had to endure living in the situation he created. Last week, he reacted by giving a fan the middle finger. This week, it was a ridiculous shirt. When WDSU’s Fletcher Mackel asked him about his couture, Davis said, “I didn't choose it.” He then told NOLA.com’s Julie Boudwin that his clothes are laid out for him every night and that he has “no control” over what he wears.
As John Kerry might ask, “Are you serious?! I mean, this is really a serious happening here?”
Davis has the physique and the talent to be a dominant force in the NBA, but at this point, fans have the right to question his drive, leadership, and ambition. Through his time in New Orleans, and especially the second half of this season, Davis has shown he might not be capable of being “the man.” That is, he might be more comfortable being the sidekick to someone else’s superhero.
That’s a shame.
Through the debacle, the Pelicans have shown class. Asked earlier this month about Davis’ situation with the Pelicans, team owner Gayle Benson replied, “I’m disappointed, but I wish Anthony the best of luck. He needs to do what's best for him. If he feels like he needs to leave, we understand. We're going to miss him. But again, we need to move on.”
Benson has said she is committed to keeping the Pelicans in New Orleans. Alas, the franchise will need to go through another rebuilding. It will have to find players who want to be on the team, who want to lift up their teammates, who want to build the Pelicans into a perennial contender.
Davis may not have that in his makeup.
There was a point where many NBA and Pelicans fans could or tied to understand Davis’ desire to switch teams, but his continued, easily avoidable mistakes have tarnished his image and made it more and more difficult – if not impossible – to support him and his behavior.
In the last few months, bridges have been burned, and Davis is awkwardly waving around the match. He and his personal management team made his trade request public when it could have been handled behind closed doors with the Pelicans front office. He flipped off a fan when he couldn’t handle the criticism for blowing up the team’s season. He wore the flippant shirt that revealed his childish attitude.
The Pelicans are shopping for a new general manager who will likely jog the makeup of the team. The most important signing will be landing a leader, a player who is willing and able to direct this team on the court and in the locker room, who will not shy away from personal responsibility and accountability, and who will expect the same from their teammates.
It hurts that Davis turned out to not be who we thought he was and as a result wants to leave New Orleans. It’s no fun to think about the team having to go through a rebuild, again. Breaking up is hard to do, but, in this instance it’s for the greater good.
The Pels have the max money they were planning on paying Davis in their pocket. They seemed determined to spread their wings (and cash) to improve and alight from this debacle.
Anthony Davis has proved not to be up to that task. He may have the physical attributes to be an amazing player, but he hasn’t shown that he can be the maestro to lead a New Orleans team to the pinnacle and become legendary in the process. There’s no guarantee that playing for another team in another city in a different arena will change that. He may go on to get a ring, but it doesn’t seem likely that he will be the driving force behind the accomplishment. He’ll be a co-star when he should be the main event.
As John Bell and the boys from WSP would say, “Maybe we’re better off.”