Thank you Anthony Davis.
That is what everyone that is a fan of the New Orleans Pelicans, or for that matter is employed by the Pelicans, should be saying loudly and proudly this NBA All-Star weekend.
That’s right. You should be thanking the 6-foot-10, 253-pound two-time All-NBA star and generational talent for not only his nearly seven years (albeit wasted) with the franchise but for what his public desire to leave New Orleans has brought, and will bring, the franchise.
Yes, I understand it will be a daunting challenge to now thank “The Brow” after everyone (fans and “media” members who conveniently jumped on the bandwagon of Davis hatred which is apparently required when covering small market teams) has spent nearly every day in the past three weeks viscerally bashing the perennial MVP candidate after his agent Rich Paul leaked to the public that his client wanted to be traded.
The fallout of the request, while Davis was injured nonetheless, has been truly epic.
There were a few failed and laughable trade requests by the Los Angeles Lakers, pettiness by the Pelicans by removing Davis from the introductory game video and a photo of Davis from the team’s Twitter account, enough tense and awkward press conferences with head coach Alvin Gentry to fill up every seat in the Smoothie King Center (there are usually plenty of seats available), with the grand finale coming Thursday night in the final game before the All-Star break — a game Davis will be taking part in as a member of the Pelicans, mind you.
During the 131-122 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Davis suffered a shoulder injury and left the game, and building, with his agent Paul to go get an MRI done. Afterwards, this prompted Gentry to accurately describe the past few weeks as “a dumpster fire.”
Davis deserves plenty of criticism for how he has handled this whole ordeal, or more accurately, how the former University of Kentucky phenomenon has allowed his agent to handle the situation.
When Davis told the team last month that he would not be signing the Pelicans’ supermax extension offer that would be the richest contract in NBA history (five years, $241.7 million) and that he wanted to be traded — he went from beloved small-market superstar to the villain.
It is the same black hat that formerly beloved superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant slipped on in years past.
But if Davis hadn’t done this then the franchise would have likely never had fired longtime general manager Dell Demps — that occurred on Friday — and that is why everyone should be thanking Davis today.
Under Demps (who took over in 2010), the franchise has been the epitome of how to NOT run an NBA franchise as the Pelicans became synonymous with buckets of impatience and incompetence.
Demps is the one who in December of 2011 traded future Hall of Farmer Chris Paul and two second-round picks to the Los Angeles Clippers for Chris Kaman (now out of league), Eric Gordon (who missed nearly 200 games with Pels), Al-Farouq Aminu and the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Who did they use that pick on? Austin Rivers.
In 2016, the Pelicans actually drafted a player in the lottery in Oklahoma shooting guard Buddy Hield. The National Player of the Year, though, lasted only four months in New Orleans as he was shipped to Sacramento, along with Tyreke Evans and a future first rounder and second rounder for All-Star DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins played one hype-filled year for the Pelicans before suffering an Achilles’ tendon tear, turning down a contract offer from the Pelicans and opting to sign a one-year veteran’s minimum deal with Golden State. Not to mention that the team actually got better without him on the floor, earning a playoff berth last year and sweeping Portland in the opening round, which all seems like a lifetime ago now.
Hield, meanwhile, was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team and competed in this weekend’s Three Point Contest.
In 2015, Demps opted to trade a first-round pick for Omer Asik and after one season gave him a five-year, $58 million deal. Demps then traded Asik and a 2018 first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls for Nikola Mirotic. The big man with a 3-point shot actually helped the Pelicans absorb the Cousins injury and make the playoff run last year. Great right?
Well. Demps just last week traded Mirotic, who was having a career year in points (16.7) and rebounds (8.3), to the best team in the Eastern Conference (Milwaukee), and what the Pelicans got in return were two role players and four second-round picks. So basically bench players for a G-League team.
Remember when last year former NBA commissioner David Stern said, “But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager, and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.” Yeah. He wasn’t wrong.
The best move Demps has done, besides trading for and resigning Jrue Holiday, who has blossomed into one of the league’s best two-way players, is not trading Davis by the deadline — in particular not trading him to the Lakers.
Remember those laughable offers?
Magic Johnson provided an alleged “Godfather” offer to the Pelicans featuring multiple picks and everyone on the roster not named LeBron James who of course shares an agent with Davis. The Pelicans didn’t take the bait on the garbage offer even though Kyle Kuzma is a very good young talent.
Maybe Demps didn’t take the deal because he knew how valuable Davis is. Or maybe Johnson should have made it more enticing by throwing in the immense statue of Shaquille O’Neal dunking outside the Staples Center, a lifetime line of credit to his chain of movie theaters, a signed poster of former Laker Girl Paula Abdul, the VHS box set of Magic’s short-lived late night talk show from the 1990s, a tube of leftover hair gel of Pat Riley’s from the 1980s, and a wax figure from Madame Tussauds of Jack Nicholson.
Or … maybe Demps wasn’t allowed to make the deal, or any deal, involving Davis.
The Davis trade demand has now forced Pelicans owner Gayle Benson to become truly committed to putting out a legit product. For years, the Pelicans have been an afterthought for ownership as the New Orleans Saints are the group’s obvious top priority and that approach has allowed Demps to run the NBA’s smallest market team into the ground with only two playoff appearances in seven years, and a current ranking of No. 24 in attendance.
Now, moving forward the team will hire a search firm to find a new GM/Director of Basketball Operations (no more Saints GM Mickey Loomis trying to run both franchises) and decisions will now be made by (hopefully) competent basketball people. Danny Ferry, who has taken over on an interim basis, is the former Atlanta Hawks general manager.
Look, there is no guarantee that Benson and whoever she hires will make any better moves than Demps did, or that the team will get the Herschel Walker-like haul from Boston for Davis that everyone is dreaming of, or that they will be lucky enough to get the top overall pick (like they did when they got Davis), but they are in a far better spot to make the Pelicans a legitimate NBA franchise. If Demps was still here the team would have without a doubt botched the trade and the upcoming draft and free agency, which would have continue to cripple the Pelicans for years to come.
Benson and the Pelicans can thank Davis for making sure that doesn’t happen now, and so should you.