No matter the changes, Anthony Davis is still the key to success for Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS — Since he arrived in the Crescent City, fresh off an NCAA Championship he won across the street from his current workplace, Anthony Davis has been the foundation upon which the New Orleans Pelicans are built.
Over the course of his first five seasons, Davis had to feel more like Atlas, with the weight of a team and the hopes of a city weighing on his shoulders.
For years the Pelicans tried to find AD a running mate of equal caliber. They failed with Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Tyreke Evans. Then, at last season’s All-Star break, it seemed the organization finally hit jackpot.
DeMarcus Cousins looked like the perfect compliment. Another versatile big man with guard-like skills, “Boogie” immediately became a fan favorite and conjured thoughts of deep playoff runs, with Jrue Holiday providing the outside compliment to the two towers.
While this season wasn’t running smoothly, there was certainly promise. Through 48 games the team’s “Big 3” stayed healthy, the Pelicans had one of the NBA’s most potent offenses, Holiday was posting career-best numbers, and both Davis and Cousins earned starting nods for this year’s All-Star game.
For the first time since Chris Paul left town, there was genuine optimism that the Pelicans could be a threat in the Western Conference.
That all came to a screeching halt when Cousins reached for his left foot late in the Pels’ win over Paul and the Houston Rockets.
We now know that Cousins will miss anywhere between 6-10 months after surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles’ tendon. In the two games since, New Orleans has played uninspired basketball, falling to the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings.
Thoughts of a top-five finish in the conference suddenly turned to concerns as to whether the Pelicans could stay in the playoff picture at all.
In response, the Pelicans acquired Nikola Mirotic in exchange for this year’s first round draft pick, Omer Asik, Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson.
The Pelicans were also in the hunt for former Helen Cox star Greg Monroe, who had his contract bought out by the Phoenix Suns before choosing to sign with the Boston Celtics.
Both would be considered fine reinforcements to bolster the team’s thin frontcourt and keep the Pelicans competitive for the rest of the season.
However, ultimately this season isn’t about Cousins, Mirotic or Monroe. It’s about Anthony Davis.
With the new pieces, Davis has to be the leader this team needs. No one else is qualified for the role. Holiday isn’t the vocal type, Rajon Rondo is quickly becoming an afterthought as his play declines, and no one else on the roster has either the experience or standing in the league to take charge.
Does Davis have it in him?
From a distance, it certainly appeared that Davis enjoyed having the boisterous and blunt Cousins around to share the spotlight with. Cousins became the team’s spokesperson and perhaps its personality as well, for better and for worse.
Now it’s back on Davis to prove that he is a franchise player in the true sense of the word. He can’t just be the best player on the team, he has to change its fortunes.
There are 32 games remaining in the regular season. Missing the playoffs aren’t an option, but the schedule isn’t an easy one to navigate.
The Pelicans cannot afford for Davis to be outworked by the likes of Kosta Koufas or play as lethargically as he did against the Kings.
Fatigue can’t be an excuse. Cousins going down can’t be an excuse. Plenty of teams above the Pelicans in the standings are missing star players or major contributors.
The organization has shown that it is all in on this season. They’ve responded. Now Davis must do the same.
If he doesn’t it will say a lot about him and the fate of the franchise.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…