The Curious Case of Anthony Davis

The Pelicans are at a crossroads as the NBA superstar decides whether to stay in New Orleans or chase championship dreams elsewhere.
Illustrations by Tony Healey
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.

 

Anthony Davis believes he’s the best player in the NBA. His coach, Alvin Gentry, says he’s the most valuable player in the league. With all due respect to LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kevin Durant, Davis and Gentry may be right.

At the beginning of this season, the NBA’s general managers voted Davis the best player in the league at two positions, center and power forward. Around the same time, Gentry said there is no other player in the world that he would rather have on his squad. At just 25 years old, Davis is just entering his prime and could get even better. In short, he is to the New Orleans Pelicans what quarterback Drew Brees is to the New Orleans Saints – invaluable.

Basketball fans around the world took notice last season as the 6-foot, 11-inch Davis took his game to new heights when star center DeMarcus Cousins tore one of his Achilles tendons in February and was lost for the year. At the time, it appeared the Pelicans’ playoff aspirations were finished. However, Davis put the team on his back and went from averaging 26.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game to 30.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks after Cousin’s injury. His improved play led the team to a 20-8 record to finish the season, and swept the higher-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the postseason, giving him his first career playoff victories.

The Pels got knocked out of the playoffs in the second round by the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors, but basketball experts predicted the Pelicans were on the rise. Then in the offseason, two starters left the team, and many questioned whether New Orleans could match, much less improve, their playoff expectations going forward.

That has put Davis and the team in a precarious position.

When the season ends in June, the Pels can offer Davis a five-year extension worth about $240 million. Because of NBA rules designed to keep star players in small markets, no other team can offer him the amount of money the Pelicans can. While there is no doubt that the franchise wants their superstar to remain in the Crescent City, there remain lingering questions as to whether or not the Pelicans can attract the talent to build a championship-caliber team around him.

Unfortunately for New Orleans, in this era the NBA’s biggest stars’ careers are judged on whether or not they win a championship. Some, like James, have forsaken money for the opportunity to grab a ring. If Davis decides not to re-sign with New Orleans, he can become a free agent in 2020 and take his talents and championship dreams to wherever he chooses.

It is worth noting that Davis signed with James’ agent, Rich Paul, this summer; however, for now he is saying he’s focused on winning and will discuss his contract at the appropriate time.

“I want to win,” he said in an interview with ESPN. “When that time comes, we’ll get to that point.”

For several years, Davis has been mentioned as a trade target for several of the NBA’s prominent teams, including the Celtics, Lakers and his hometown Chicago Bulls. If he chooses not to re-sign with the Pelicans this coming summer, they will have no option but to trade him and try to get someone of value to replace his talent – much like what happened with the franchise’s last superstar Chris Paul, who played in New Orleans for the first six years of his career. But without Davis, questions about the team’s long-term viability in New Orleans will surely arise. Will the team’s fans be willing to support the club if it loses its superstar and has to go through another rebuilding process? If not, would owner Gayle Benson move the team to a larger market with less competition for fans’ entertainment dollars or sell to someone who would?

When that time comes, we’ll get to that point. For now, let’s hope the Pelicans show enough promise to keep Davis in place in New Orleans.