Anthony Davis ready to depart so Pelicans must start over
It was seemingly inevitable.
After Anthony Davis signed with Klutch Sports back in September, the clock began ticking.
LeBron James is pulling the strings of agent Rich Paul was and has been the narrative.
Paul told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN early Monday that Davis has no intention of signing a contract extension and has requested a trade from New Orleans. The Pelicans released a statement to confirm the report later Monday:
This past weekend, Anthony Davis’ representatives informed us that Anthony does not wish to sign a contract extension with our team and subsequently has requested a trade. Although we are disappointed in this decision, our organization’s top priority is to bring an NBA championship to our city and fans and build our team for long-term success.
Relative to specific talks of a trade, we will do this on our terms and our timeline. One that makes the most sense for our team and it will not be dictated by those outside of our organization. We have also requested the League to strictly enforce the tampering rules associate with this transaction.
Let us start with the obvious question.
Can you blame Davis?
Dell Demps had a chance.
The Pelicans showed real promise, making the playoffs a year ago and winning a playoff round. They won 48 games and looked like a team with a good future.
Then came the offseason.
Demps did not do enough to improve a roster, other than the addition of Julius Randle, who essentially was a smaller version of replacing DeMarcus Cousins.
Rajon Rondo left and the best Demps could muster was to sign Elfrid Payton, a hometown hero who has not lived up to his rookie promise or draft slot; Jarrett Jack, who did not make the team, and to bring back Tim Frazier. Wesley Johnson has not delivered anything.
The Pelicans are 22-28 and virtually out of playoff contention already in the very deep Western conference. If they were 28-22 or better, would we be having this conversation?
While the Boston Celtics are a potential desired destination for Davis, that cannot happen until the summer. Because the Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving, they are now allowed, due to the “Rose Rule,” to trade for another player.
The rule is named after Derrick Rose.
By definition, the league instituted the rule with the goal of rewarding players operating under rookie wage contracts who had signed a maximum salary extension but had outperformed the 25 percent maximum salary slot allowed. If the player on a rookie deal earned All-NBA honors twice, is voted an NBA All-Star starter by fans twice or earns league MVP honors, that player’s salary slot is eligible for a 30 percent maximum slot when that player’s fifth season begins.
It is a bit ridiculous to dictate how much money a player can make based on a fan or media vote, don’t you think?
Whatever the case may be, the Celtics, who have tremendous assets, are hamstrung, at the present, to obtain Davis.
That leaves the obvious destination.
James helped orchestrate the Davis-Klutch Sports relationship. The de-facto coach/general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers wants Davis. As we have seen for years now, LeBron gets what he wants, for better or worse where the league is concerned. James has openly courted Davis (with no disciplinary action from the league). The Lakers have good young talent.
While fans in New Orleans will swear and scream, this one is on management.
Of course, there was never a guarantee that Davis would stay but let’s remember that he did sign an extension off of his original contract to give it a shot here.
The Pelicans have great facilities and good football management. What they do not have is good basketball management.
With Davis not playing due to a finger injury, one wonders if Pelicans management will not blink, not trade him to the Lakers, sit Davis the rest of the season and tank to get a high draft pick?
If you wait until the offseason, the Celtics jump in.
The desperate New York Knicks could jump in now.
Would the Knicks trade their first-round pick, unprotected, to the Pelicans? Would they add value to sweeten the deal?
If you are Gayle Benson and Mickey Loomis, do you allow Demps to make this deal?
Former NBA commissioner David Stern blasted Demps back in September, calling him a lousy general manager, citing Demps wanting Stern and the league, who were running the Pelicans back in 2011, to make what Stern felt was a very bad trade involving Chris Paul, who went through what Davis is going through now.
Stern said he was protecting the New Orleans Hornets, at the time, clearly protecting them from the ineptitude of Demps, in his opinion.
It was a poor statement to make by a former NBA commissioner. Even if he believed what he said, it was better left unsaid.
That said, he had a point.
Demps has been the general manager of the New Orleans franchise since July 2010. We are nearly nine years down the road. How long is too long to vet someone’s ability to handle a job in proper fashion?
People knock and attack Alvin Gentry regularly, fairly or unfairly. Gentry did pretty well with a roster consisting of players who play his style last year.
While he is not anywhere near being an elite coach, is Gentry the problem or is Demps the problem?
Demps had Monty Williams and fired him, winning a power struggle, effectively blaming the coach, who had just had a winning season and led his team to the playoffs.
Demps has presided over the Paul trade. None of the players involved in that trade made any real impact with the Pelicans and all were gone within four years – Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a draft pick which turned out to be Austin Rivers.
He presided over contracts which were clearly failures, including Omer Asik and currently Solomon Hill. He made the monster deal for Cousins and kept him for all of 65 games over two years. Demps traded first-round pick Buddy Hield, who has blossomed into an excellent player, and got two draft picks for Cousins. The Kings maneuvered to end up with De’Aaron Fox, who is a very good player.
Fox is averaging 17.6 points and 7.2 assists on the second year of a rookie contract. Hield is averaging 20.2 points while shooting a blistering 46 percent from 3-point range in his third NBA season.
The Kings and Vlade Divac did exactly what smaller market teams should do. They acquired picks and are building around the draft, around young, talented players on rookie deals. Sacramento is 25-25 right now, in contention and trending up with a young roster that can grow.
In nine years in New Orleans, Demps has done anything but develop young players.
Davis was a gift from above, manna from Heaven.
The goofy NBA lottery system gifted Davis to New Orleans, even though New Orleans had the fourth-best chance to get the top pick. If this were any other professional league, it never would have happened. What would the Pelicans have been over the last seven seasons without Davis?
You want to know about how New Orleans has built through the draft?
Since Demps arrived in 2011, here are the drafts he has presided over:
2011—Josh Harrelson (2nd round). Traded to Knicks
2012—Anthony Davis (1st round), Austin Rivers (2nd round), Darius Miller (2nd round)
2013—Nerlens Noel (1st round). Traded to 76ers, got Jrue Holiday
2015—Branden Dawson (2nd round). Traded to Clippers
2016—Buddy Hield (1st round), David Micheneau, Diamond Stone (2nd round). Both Traded to Clippers as the Pelicans got Cheick Diallo.
2017—Dwayne Bacon (2nd round). Traded to Charlotte. Edmond Sumer (2nd round). Traded to Pacers
2018—Tony Carr (2nd round)
Not impressed? You should not be. Demps has opted to go for instant success, trading away picks on a regular basis in attempt to get rich quick. To say it has not worked would be an understatement.
Outside of Davis and Holiday, you have Miller and Diallo to show for the draft efforts.
Miller was waived after the 2014-15 season. He went to Europe and improved his game before re-signing with New Orleans in 2017. He is a decent role player off the bench, averaging 7.8 points per game last year and 7.4 this year while shooting around 40 percent from 3-point range.
Diallo, who plays with great energy, has not made his mark. He has played in just 101 games in three seasons, averaging 4.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
In defense of Demps, it is not easy to build a team in a small market. Typically, you have to pay more to attract veteran free agents.
Then, he has been unlucky with injuries throughout his tenure here, including this season.
Davis, while a great player, will never be a vocal leader. Some say he will never be a leader. He is a great player. Playing second fiddle to James in Los Angeles may suit him quite well.
If you make a deal with the Lakers, who are the assets to seek?
There are many, including Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac and even Lonzo Ball.
Kuzma is an ascending player, averaging 19.1 points per game in his second season in the league.
Ingram is also young, in his third season in the league. He is a long stretch player, a small forward who can play shooting guard at times. He is shooting just 31 percent from 3-point range this season.
Zubac is a pure center at 7-foot-1. He is a third-year player as well.
Ball, while having ball skills and being a true point guard, has been a mixed bag with the Lakers. Simply put, he cannot shoot, though he has improved a little over his rookie season.
What can work in favor of the Pelicans is that there will be pressure on Magic Johnson to make a deal to get Davis. Perhaps he will blink first but is Demps capable of fleecing Johnson? Will he get the chance to? If he does, will he be here at season’s end? Will Gentry be here beyond this season?
It is time to start over in New Orleans, to start to build with young players. Start listening to potential trade deals for Niko Mirotic. While he is a solid player, he is in the final year of his contract. Again, get younger.
You can try to build around Jrue Holiday, a good but not great player who makes big money. Then again, you could look to deal him as well, get younger and save money. Holiday is due to make over $26 million annually over the three seasons after this one. Holiday is a consummate pro, who plays both ends of the floor with vigor. Someone would love to have him as well. His value will never be higher at the age of 28.
Julius Randle is just 24 and a nice offensive player. He has one more year left on his current deal. Is he worth investing in long-term?
It has been great watching Davis here. He has been a great player and person and great in the community. So was Paul. They gave their very best in New Orleans. For that, we shall be appreciative.
Players want to win.
Much like with the Saints after a horrible call, it is time for the Pelicans to move on in more ways than one.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…