December 12, 2018

The New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis is a monster. It’s becoming a nightly fixture, watching the elegant gargantuan move swiftly across the court, terrorizing opponents at his will.

Since Feb. 24, Davis has put up Chamberlain-ian numbers, averaging 39.2 points and 14.4 rebounds while maintaining a true shooting percentage of 61.6 percent over five games. The generational talent is doing his best to carry the injury-riddled Pelicans to the playoffs for just the second time in his seven-year career.

And New Orleans’ five-game win streak has been a strenuous one, seeing a double OT win against Brooklyn, a close game against Detroit, an OT win against Miami despite the Pelicans’ late mistakes, and a grueling OT win over Milwaukee. The recent success off the back of Anthony Davis is due to a dynamic two-man game between him and Jrue Holiday. Head Coach Alvin Gentry almost extensively uses high screens to get Davis open deep or in the mid-range, which seems to be his sweet-spot over this recent span.

It’s admirable to watch the Pelicans vie for final spot in the playoffs, given the circumstances they’ve had to overcome. But even if they manage to squeeze into the postseason, doing any type of damage is nearly impossible. Two first round exits is hardly what Anthony Davis feels his career’s legacy should be. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, the infamous Kevin Garnett quote about demanding a trade came up. Davis’ thought on the quote was, “I’m not going to lie, it makes you think. You wonder if you’re following in that same path. But then again, you think this year could be the year. You don’t know. You just have to take it year-by-year and see. See where the team is going. What direction they want to go to and see where they’re headed”.

These words won’t be set in stone, and there’s a chance Davis spends the rest of his career in New Orleans. But at this point, watching Anthony Davis’ success surpass that of the team’s should have the front office sweating. Any attempt of surrounding Davis with meaningful talent hasn’t done much to improve the promise of the franchise. Not for a lack of trying, however. New Orleans has attempted to not watch Davis’ prime waste away.

They started by trading the sixth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft for guard Jrue Holiday, which has undeniably the most stable piece around the big man throughout his career. Their biggest blockbuster deal came last year, when they traded rookie Buddy Hield and a 2017 first-round pick for All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins. By no means was it a perfect fit, but it was New Orleans trying to obtain another star to take the load off of Davis. The Pelicans still fell short in 2017-18 and missed the playoffs, but there was still some sight for hope in the future. New Orleans had one more season of DeMarcus Cousins under his current contract, but that was cut short at the end of January due to an Achilles tear.

The Pelicans tried. At the end of the day, it might not mean much. Even with the optics of trying, the  relationship between Anthony Davis and New Orleans could be doomed. They are set for a payroll above $90 million for next season, assuming they do not bring back Cousins. A shrinking cap and a climate of super-teams are working against the Pelicans. They do, however, have the advantage of the super-max they can offer Davis. This would give him somewhere near $230 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

There’s a lot of tug and pull in this situation. The massive contract of Jrue Holiday will turn out to be more of hinderance than an asset, but losing him in free agency would have been disastrous considering his importance to the offense. DeMarcus Cousins may have been a short-term option, but was Buddy Hield and a late-lottery rookie going to make any impact?

The Pelicans have been clawing their way up to a never ending mountain, and it will cost them Anthony Davis unless they strike gold on the way. The eighth seed is looked upon as more of a consolation postseason entrance, considering the Golden State Warriors are a spotless culmination of talent. But getting there could give Davis hope the team is just one move away from becoming perennial mid-seed. Or it could prove to him even more that the rest of the NBA is moving faster than a cash-strapped Pelicans team.

New Orleans is hot, Anthony Davis is hotter. The Pelicans need to continue a cinderella story throughout the month of March and the beginning of April, but their sites will be on the best way to maximize Davis’ talents considering the franchise’s current situation. Anthony Davis’ quote regarding Garnett’s past trade quote is concerning, but may be more of a signal than a damnation of the future.

Davis’ aspirations may eventually outrank his loyalty if he continues to watch his peers fight for a chance at basketball glory. It’s a decision not many franchises have to endure. It’s difficult. But at the end of the day, the star holds power. And if the star wants out, he’ll find a way out. The Pelicans have incredibly impactful decisions to make this summer, and it could set the course for the career of Anthony Davis.

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George Kondoleon

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