There’s no need to squint.
It’s easy to read between the lines.
Anthony Davis’ patience is running thin. Even though his contract with the New Orleans Pelicans keeps him signed through the 2019-2020 season (at $27 million per year), the All-NBA forward is barely mincing his words when it comes to his future with the franchise.
In two exclusive ESPN interviews this season, Davis has voiced his desire to win at a high level, something he’s never experienced in New Orleans. Even future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett told the 24-year-old star not to wait to change teams until it’s too late, according to an interview that aired Tuesday.
Garnett famously asked out of Minnesota after 12 seasons and 10 All-Star appearances and was traded to Boston, where he won the 2008 NBA title and propelled his legacy. It’s a blueprint Davis could easily follow, and there’s no shortage of contenders willing to mortgage a bevy of future assets in exchange.
“When you hear that, it makes you think,” Davis told ESPN. “You wonder if you're following in that same path. But then again, this year could be the year — you don't know. You've just got to take it year by year and see where the team is going, what direction they want to go and see where they're headed.”
It's just another dose of gasoline on the Pelicans’ exceedingly flammable situation.
The clock is ticking on Anthony Davis. It’s nearly run out on DeMarcus Cousins.
And the major decision-makers, general manager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry, could be hurtling toward their expiration date as well.
With 25 games left, the season could go in any number of directions; some of those would require drastic changes while others promote the status quo. All of it is Fabergé levels of fragile.
Starting on Friday night, consecutive losses could drop the Pelicans into 10th place in the Western Conference, while consecutive wins could bump them as high as fifth.
Ultimately, the trajectory of the franchise will look radically different depending on how the next six weeks transpire. And Davis said he isn’t interested in just reaching the playoffs. He’s holding the Pelicans accountable to achieve at a higher level.
"I've (been to the playoffs) before, and nobody talks about it,” Davis said. “Nobody talks about it at all. I feel like we can do more. We have to. You know, they all say basketball is a game of runs. This might be our run.”
On Thursday, Davis declined to retract his comments, but he clarified to say he isn’t holding the Pelicans hostage or seeking to leave New Orleans before his deal (including player option) expires in 2021.
But he’s making no promises beyond that.
And as far as this year’s free agency, his thoughts are obvious. Not only did Davis wear Cousins’ jersey in the All-Star Game, but he feels their frontcourt combination was powerful enough to propel the Pelicans to an NBA Finals appearance if not for Cousins' injury.
On July 1, Cousins hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent. The pressure to re-sign the All-Star is coming from many directions, but the most prominent voice is Davis’.
“I think our front office is doing a better job,” Davis said Thursday. “The best job they can do. I feel like we're moving in the right direction. But you do have to take it year by year to see how it goes. That's how I'm approaching it. Of course Cuz is a big factor, what he is going to do or not."
In many regards, this is Davis growing up. For years, the face of the Pelicans’ franchise declined to strongly comment on the team’s personnel decisions and generally toed the company line when controversy arose.
Those days are gone. Davis wants to be recognized at an MVP level and eventually as the NBA’s greatest player. He’s talented enough to get there.
The only way to do it is to play in meaningful games on big stages. The Pelicans haven’t gotten there.
So, Davis is sounding the alarm.
In the meantime, he recognizes the burden placed on him to win in the present. A strong finish would make the Pelicans more desirable for Cousins and other potential free agents, possibly opening the door to transform the roster in the way he wants.
It begins Friday against Miami.
“Now it goes back to AD before DeMarcus,” Davis said. “A lot of minutes. The weight of the world on your shoulders. You have to carry the team on your back. You have to almost get 40 every night to have a chance to win. It’s back to that.
“It’s tough. You kind of have that Russell Westbrook mentality when KD went out. That’s what I try to think about. Russ just went out there and played. He took 40 shots sometimes. It’s kind of whatever it takes to help your team win.”