Now the Pelicans are holding the stronger hand

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Now the Pelicans hold the stronger hand.

Ever since Anthony Davis told New Orleans’ NBA franchise in late January that he would not sign another contract with it, that he wanted to be traded, the Pelicans have been back on their heels. They have been trying to navigate complications triggered by Davis’ demand.

It was left to coach Alvin Gentry for nearly half a season to try and play Davis a sufficient enough amount of time to avoid significant fines from the NBA for not playing a healthy superstar, while limiting Davis’ playing time enough to not retard the development of young players who might be a part of the post-Davis era in New Orleans.

That was just one example of how the Pelicans have had to operate under terms set by others.

That all changed Tuesday night.

The Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery and the opportunity to draft Zion Williamson, widely regarded as the best prospect since LeBron James in 2003. That means he’s widely regarded as being a more significant draft choice than Davis was when New Orleans won the 2012 lottery and grabbed him.

When Davis issued his trade demand, the Pelicans could hear a far-away clock ticking, knowing they had time to put together the best trade for Davis but also realizing that he can become a free agent after next season.

The only good thing Davis did in this exit strategy was give New Orleans some lead time to make a trade before potentially losing Davis in free agency and getting nothing in return.

Nonetheless, the Pelicans were in a reactive state, forced to make the best of a situation and time frame forced on them by others.

To the credit of former general manager Dell Demps, he didn’t succumb to the pressure to get a deal done and make a bad one, most likely with the Lakers, before the in-season trading deadline in February.

To the franchise hierarchy’s credit it recognized that Demps, who had a mixed record of success in 10 years, wasn’t the best person to handle the Davis situation and fired him.

To the hierarchy’s greater credit, it went out and hired former Suns and Cavaliers executive David Griffin to run the basketball operation. As executives go, Griffin’s presence on the open market wasn’t a whole lot different that Davis’ would be if he ever makes it to free agency.

Anthony DavisTo Griffin’s credit, when he was hired he didn’t just assume he had to trade Davis. He immediately announced that he would sit down and talk with Davis and Davis’ agent before deciding whether to move forward with a trade. He wanted to determine with his own eyes and ears whether he had to get rid of his best player or whether Davis could be talked into staying and re-upping.

That meeting hasn’t taken place, but it will soon. At the very least, Griffin sent a clear message to potential trade partners: The Pelicans aren’t in a desperate situation. The resolution of the Davis situation is in the hands of a pro and if we choose to shop him around we’ll be in touch.

Now it’s clear, the Pelicans will not be rebuilding from scratch or anything like it in the wake of Davis’ trade demand. If Griffin decides it’s in the best interest of the franchise to move Davis – and the guess here is that when the GM looks into the player’s eyes he won’t see the championship mettle that he requires of franchise players – the assets that come in return will be significant.

The combination of assets acquired for Davis, Jrue Holiday, Zion Williamson and perhaps Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton will produce a team in transition, but one with a bright future.

The same will be true if Griffin and Davis come to a meeting of the minds and decide to move forward together. That possibility is greater now than it was before the lottery and much greater than it was in late January. But it’s still less likely than the alternative.

“We said coming into this, we didn’t know what would happen (at the lottery), but we knew we were sort of the epicenter of the offseason,” Griffin said Tuesday night. “Now that’s true to an even greater degree. So we’re really grateful.”

New Orleans hired the best card player available and he has just been dealt the strongest hand he could have gotten.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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