Is it time for the Pelicans and Anthony Davis to part ways? If Davis gets his way yes, but when exactly that will be is uncertain. On Monday, Davis informed the Pelicans that he will not sign a contract extension this summer or when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020. As a result, he is requesting a trade from the team so they can get some kind of return for him before he walks.
On Wednesday, before the Pelicans loss to the Nuggets, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry was asked if Davis would return to the team at all this season. He’s been sitting out with a hand injury the last few weeks, but the trade deadline isn’t until February 7. He theoretically could come back before that date if he recovers from his injury. The Pelicans could also not trade Davis at all and wait until the summer to move him while letting him finish out the season on the Pelicans roster, but would he play at all down the stretch? Gentry didn’t give a clear answer when he was asked.
The Pelicans have been subtly acting as if Davis is for certain not returning to the team. They removed him from the team intro video before Wednesday’s game and Gentry’s comments weren’t exactly inspiring, but right now the only team that has been mentioned in solid Davis trade rumors are the Lakers. They have the young assets necessary to bring in Davis, but it wouldn’t be very diligent of the Pelicans to just take the first deal that comes by. Also, reporter Adrian Wojnarowski said on ESPN’s pregame show that the Pelicans don’t want to move Davis to the Lakers if they can help it. Following the loss, Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that right now the Pelicans aren’t sure what they’re going to do with Davis, but the possibility of him sitting out the rest of the season is very real.
Davis’ situation here is a fascinating one because he’s prone to minor nicks and scratches that can build up over time. If the Pelicans do plan on trading Davis, and they can’t find a deal before the deadline, then letting him sit out the entire year would keep him healthy. That could also be beneficial for everybody involved.
The incentive for Davis to sit out the rest of the season is obvious. He doesn’t want to risk injury on a team he already plans on leaving. He’s already sitting out with an injury right now. He spent the final stretch of last season going back to the locker room with injuries every couple of games. He just can’t play a style that doesn’t risk injury on this Pelicans team. It’s not in him. The problem is that if he just actively sits out for an entire season, clearly healthy, then that could hurt his reputation. Think about what happened to Kawhi Leonard with the Spurs last season.
Of course, when you’re a talent like Davis, then that reputation will be fixed as soon as he gets back on the court (see: Kawhi on the Raptors). Davis also has the advantage of the Pelicans quickly falling out of the playoff race. They’re currently 13th in the West and 5.5 games out of the playoffs entering February. With the deadline approaching, and the West not getting any easier, nobody would blame Davis for seeing that this is a lost cause. Why ruin his potential future for the slim chance of making the No. 8 seed and being blasted by the Warriors or Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.
Admitting that it’s time to let a star go is hard, but that’s what New Orleans must do here. The Pelicans failed to ever get past the second round with Davis and only made the playoffs twice with him. They tried, but their time has run out. Just cash in your chips and see what you can get for a rebuild or re-tooling effort. New Orleans has options here and doesn’t need to rush a trade by the February 7 deadline. It can easily wait until the end of the season and look at the deals that are available then.
Of course, that means they should also spend the rest of this season seeing what they have in their current roster and exploring trade options for some of the veterans around Davis if opportunities to collect assets or younger players arise. It’s rare for the team itself to shut down their star player in February, but when the writing is on the wall like it is for New Orleans that isn’t the worst idea ever. Lose a lot of games, get a decent position in the upcoming draft lottery, and maybe they’ll get lucky and win the No. 1 overall pick again. Then, when the summer rolls around, you have a freshly rested Anthony Davis ready to offer in trade talks. Sure the Lakers and Celtics are going to call with assets, but there are other teams that might be willing to rent out Davis for a year with hopes of convincing him to stay.
Even if the breakup will be acrimonious, as evidenced by the early proceedings, there’s no reason the two sides can’t reach a compromise on making this the best situation for everybody with regards to Davis sitting out the rest of the year. The Pelicans still have Davis under contract through 2020. They don’t have to cave in to pressure. They still hold the advantage for now, but their best leverage entering the summer is a healthy Davis. A better draft pick to kickstart a rebuild wouldn’t hurt either.