Mar 28, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis following a game against the Sacramento Kings at the Smoothie King Center.

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The disastrous Anthony Davis experiment mercifully comes to an end in New Orleans

Why a different vision is needed for the future

Seth Dunlap
April 09, 2019 - 7:29 pm
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Nearly seven years ago basketball fans in New Orleans received a promise of a better, brighter future.  Not just a promise, but an actual delivery. 

The New Orleans Hornets drafted Anthony Davis on June 28, 2012, and the city was smitten with dreams of championship banners floating in the rafters of the New Orleans Arena.  This was supposed to be the moment the Hornets became relevant.

Tom Benson had just purchased the team, saving the franchise from possible relocation.  The defection of All-NBA point guard less than eight months prior was no longer the crippling blow it seemed to be.  Davis brought with him the promise of a brighter future.  Success was inevitable, or so it seemed.

2,500 days-and-change later and there are no new banners.  There are no championships.  The Hornets have become the Pelicans.  The New Orleans Arena is now the Smoothie King Center.  Tom Benson passed away and his widow, Gayle, assumed ownership of the franchise.   So much change, but so much has remained the same.

Losing.  Losing has remained the same.

Save for a couple months of relative basketball bliss during the Pelicans march to the Western Conference Semifinals, a trip that would end in a swift defeat by the soon-to-be repeat champions, there has been very little to cheer about during Anthony Davis’ tenure in New Orleans.

Sure, Davis himself has been just as good as advertised on the court.  Perhaps even better.   He’s widely regarded as one of the five-best players in the world, and both his traditional and advanced stats show he belongs in that group.  Oh, and he’s only 25 years old.  The world has yet to see the best of Anthony Davis.  Unfortunately for basketball fans in New Orleans, they’ll now have to watch his best years from a distance. 

The Pelicans 574th regular season game with Davis on the roster will be their last together.  Fittingly, he won’t even suit up. 

That is now the modus operandi for both parties and they’ve tried to navigate this sideshow the past three months since Davis requested a trade out of New Orleans.  The Pelicans have been using every excuse not to play him, as they should.  Davis has reciprocated with behavior that makes him look less beleaguered star and more petulant young-adult. 

Now, the circus is coming to an end.  The Pelicans won’t have to worry about Davis on the court any longer, and Davis will no longer have to navigate his own self-made minefield of public relations pitfalls that have greeted him at nearly every turn since his trade request.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Pelicans handling of Davis during his tenure here.  Many of those same lessons can also apply to fans and media that have spent the near-entirety of these seven years acting as human shields warding off any necessary criticism of Davis.  Perhaps the most bizarre spectacle during this time, outside of Davis’ trade request and the fallout that followed, was the six-and-a-half years of kid gloves approach to developing Davis that nearly everybody in the city had.

Frequent injury problems were dismissed as problems with the team’s medical staff.  Mounting losses were always the fault of the other players, coaches, or former general manager Dell Demps.  Davis’ inability to develop team leadership skills shown by other superstars in the league were hand-waved away as irrelevant to any conversation about Davis’ value and growth.  Even minor criticisms of his play were always met with near-instant derision from the Anthony Davis apologists on social media.

Can we all admit how boorish the knee-jerk defenses of Davis became?  He was always the player, the man, which could do no wrong.  Can we also admit that this is no way to develop a generational talent?  How is an 18 year-old basketball phenom supposed to gain the basketball, leadership, and life skills when he is constantly surrounded by sycophants who dare not challenge or criticize him for fear that, one day, he just might get tired of all the teaching and constructive criticism  and he’d just pack up and leave?

Guess what, he’s leaving anyways.  No amount of hand-over-your-mouth moments were ever going to change that.  It didn’t matter how many Tweets critical of Davis you deleted before sending.  The shut up and let him play approach by the Pelicans organization certainly looks disastrous in retrospect.

Had he been taught how to lead a group of men during his first few season in the league, lessons that would be incredibly tough on any person in their late-teens and early-twenties but nevertheless extremely necessary, would he have been able to galvanize this roster into competitiveness the years he didn’t have Rajon Rondo on the roster?  Imagine a fiery Anthony Davis grilling his teammates on the court and in the locker room when they weren’t performing well.  Imagine Davis laying into the media, the referees, other teams and players when he felt he, or his teammates, were slighted.   Imagine a reality where Anthony Davis learned to lead like a LeBron or Kobe.  Wouldn’t things have turned out a bit differently?

That’s all hypothetical nonsense now.  Davis is on his way out, and it’s hard to begrudge him that decision.  What person entering the prime of his chosen career wouldn’t want to elevate and challenge himself at the highest levels?  He knew it was never going to happen in New Orleans.  If we’re being honest, so did every basketball fan in the city.

The past can’t be changed, but these hard lessons can benefit the Pelicans franchise and its fans.  Eventually another generational talent will find himself in a navy, gold, and red uniform in New Orleans.   It could be Zion Williamson, if fortune falls the Pelicans way.  If not Zion, then maybe it’s RJ Barrett or Ja Morant.  Perhaps a still-developing Jason Tatum.  

Whoever it is, and there will eventually be somebody with Davis-like talents here, it’s time to ditch the kid gloves and start holding our stars to the standards they aspire to.   Enough of the accountability-free zone that Pelicans basketball has existed in since their inception in 2002.  Gayle Benson promised that professional basketball in New Orleans is here to stay.  It’s time to start acting like we all give a damn. 

 

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