Dysfunctional Divide

Fallout from Davis’ trade request puts Pelicans in precarious position


It’s bad.

There’s no other way to say it.

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It’s bad for the NBA.

It’s worse for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Ultimately, it may be worst for Anthony Davis.

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For most of the season, there had been speculation on whether Davis would sign a contract extension, worth about $240 million over five years, to stay with the only NBA team he has played for or chose a lower pay day with the chance to play elsewhere. Speculation was that Davis, the Pelicans’ biggest star and one of the most popular players in the league had his eye on joining the Los Angeles Lakers and their star LeBron James. In late January, Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, who also represents James, told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that his second-most famous client was not interested in signing the extension to stay in New Orleans and wanted to be traded to a team that will allow him to compete for championships. The Lakers offered a slew of players and draft picks in an attempt to land him. However, the Pelicans’ brass didn’t think the bounty was equal to Davis’ talent and importance as the face of the franchise, and the unconventional mid-season trade request wasn’t met. With their trade of sharp shooting Nikola Mirotic to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Jason Smith, Stanley Johnson and four second-round picks, it looks as if they are conceding that they will be rebuilding the roster. Now, Davis and the Pels are stuck with each other until mid-April, when the season ends, and the whole situation is and will be a drag for all involved.

The league has already fined Davis $50,000 for “violating a collectively-bargained rule prohibiting players or their representatives from making public trade demands.”

That seemed like a miniscule fine for causing the situation that will linger over the remainder of the season, especially when the NBA also threatened the Pels with a $100,000 fine for each game they didn’t play Davis, if they decided to not play him in an effort to keep him healthy and protect his trade value. 

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With their hand forced, New Orleans took the court on Tuesday night and lost a sparsely attended home game to the Orlando Magic by 30 points, 118-88. Davis, who began the season arguing he was the best player in the league, made one of nine shots for three points.

The loss knocked the Pelicans to 25-33 on the year. They’ve lost six of their last seven games and sit in 13th place in their conference, six games out of the final playoff spot with 24 games left.

After the game, Davis told reporters, “We sucked. Nobody was interested in playing, is what it looked like.”

Imagine that. In requesting a trade Davis all but told his current teammates – and the fans who support the team – that he doesn’t care about them, this season or the success of the franchise. And he wonders why his teammates look like they are not enthusiastic to take the court?

It’s seemingly become too much for Pels’ head coach Alvin Gentry, who said after the game he didn’t want to talk about the Davis situation any more. He has to realize that his future, as well as that of team GM Dell Demps, is in limbo as a result of Davis’ decision.

The fallout from Davis’ failed attempt to leave New Orleans is a black eye for the NBA. Both the Pelicans and Lakers appeared fractured after the trade deal was discussed, fell through and left all involved with hurt feelings. And it will continue to linger for months.

Even before this fiasco, it has seemed like only a handful of the league’s 30 teams can actually compete for a championship. Since 2000, eight NBA franchises, less than 27 percent of teams in the league, have won championships (for comparison, the NFL has had 12 different Super Bowl winning franchises, roughly 38 percent of the league’s teams, in the same time frame). Only two of those NBA champions were smaller market teams – San Antonio and Cleveland. In this era, it appears that the best players would prefer to play for large-market teams at the expense of a greater salary and time in the spotlight playing in a smaller-sized city. That begs several questions. How do small market teams expect to compete with those in larger markets? How can fans of small-market teams be asked for continued support when it looks like the odds are stacked against their team having an opportunity to compete for and win championships?

That has to be a major concern for teams like the Pelicans. For the second time since 2000, New Orleans’ star player has asked to be traded and the franchise will have to liken itself to the mythical phoenix, die in self-immolation, and be born again. Obviously, there is concern that that transformation might not happen in the Big Easy. If the team cannot keep fans’ interest, it could be moved or sold and moved. At the beginning of the month, Forbes released its annual estimation of NBA team’s value. The Pelicans were second from the bottom with a $1.22 billion appraisal. Meanwhile, the average NBA team is worth $1.9 billion – three times the value of five years ago and up 13% year over year. With a basketball hotbed like Seattle pining for a team after losing the Supersonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, the Crescent City could become an NBA afterthought. While it wouldn’t be cool to lose a second NBA franchise, it would be hard to blame ownership if it tried to cash out while the NBA’s value is on a serious upswing.

What’s so sad about this whole dilemma is that Anthony Davis and his representatives caused this situation by making their trade request public. If it’s kept private, no one is the wiser. Instead, Davis is harming his reputation and how he is perceived.  

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. He came into the year saying he’s the best player in the NBA. His actions aren’t backing up that statement. If he truly were the best, his star power would have the gravitational pull to bring in cast members to help him lead the Pelicans to a title or more. In this move, he is giving up a max deal that no other team can match and admitting he needs to go to someone else’s team as second or, even, third fiddle, to win (Ask Chris Paul how that worked out for him). That raises questions about who he is and how he sees himself. Is he a leader? Can he be counted on to put a team on his back, make the players around him better and will it to win? Or is he just a sidekick, a role player to a greater star?

Anthony Davis is giving up money, stability, and a ton of good will in his quest to be an NBA Champion. In the process, he’s affecting his and the NBA’s reputations, as well as the stability of his club and its place in its home city. I like Davis and hoped he would be responsible for decorating the Smoothie King Center’s rafters with numerous banners. But this trade request and all that has followed seems very short sighted. For all involved, I hope it was worth it.


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