Ultimately, Anthony Davis knew he wasn’t right.
The Pelicans forward thought he could play through the pain in his knee — the same way he’d played through the periodic pain and stiffness of a torn labrum in his left shoulder. And then, Friday night in a game against Portland, it became clear he couldn’t.
“I couldn’t explode,” Davis said Monday, a day after the Pelicans opted to shut him down for the rest of the season. “I didn’t feel like myself. First play of the game, I air-balled a layup. Couple of plays where I could have dunked the ball, I couldn’t really get up. It was just bothering me to the point where I couldn’t really move and do the things I usually do on the basketball floor.”
It turns out Davis has tendinosis, chronic tendon pain in his left knee. It will require an offseason procedure — Davis will know more about the specifics after he sees a specialist in Los Angeles soon — and a recovery period that Davis has been told will last “four or five months.”
Davis will take advantage of that downtime to take care of a shoulder injury that’s been lingering since his rookie year.
During that 2012-13 season, Davis suffered a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. The pain and stiffness it caused have flared up and gone away since.
“It comes and goes,” Davis said. “You wake up and just because it’s raining, it’s going to start hurting.”
The Pelicans have been aware of Davis’ torn labrum since it happened. But the partial tear was never serious enough to require surgery, a team source said, and Davis was historically productive even with the injury. Last season, he posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 30.81, the 11th-best single season in NBA history.
Still, doctors told Davis he’d require surgery “eventually,” Davis said Monday.
It’s not unusual for an athlete to delay surgery on a torn labrum, a doctor familiar with labrum injuries, who does not work for the Pelicans, said Monday. The injury sometimes presents mild or no symptoms, and athletes sometimes avoid surgery because it requires a long recovery.
“We would never put anybody at risk,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “It doesn’t make sense for us as a franchise. He was able to play with the shoulder issue.”
But with Davis’ knee requiring medical treatment and rest to recover, the Pelicans and Davis made the decision to end his season and have shoulder surgery as well.
“The shoulder’s actually pretty fine,” Davis said. “It has its ups and downs, but the knee’s really where it’s at. They told me eventually you have to have the surgery, so there’s no point in waiting until it starts hurting real bad to get it when you could just rest both of them at the same time.”
If the shoulder were Davis’ only issue, he said, “I would have played yesterday.”
Instead, Davis sat out the first of the 14 straight games he’ll miss to end the season. Because he needs to repair the knee and is opting to have shoulder surgery, Davis and the Pelicans — after a meeting with Davis, his representatives, team management and coaches and independent doctors, according to a source — reached the decision to cut his season short to begin the recovery process for both injuries.
“The situation right now is that this is a perfect time,” Gentry said. “He has the knee issue, so if you’re going to take care of the knee issue, you might as well take care of the shoulder one, too.”
It sounds like a simple decision, but there were complicating factors.
For one, there’s Davis’ contract.
The extension he signed in the offseason is worth at least $23 million more if he qualifies for the NBA’s “Rose Rule” provision that would allow his salary to account for 30 percent of the Pelicans’ salary cap per season as opposed to 25 percent.
To qualify, player must, while under his rookie contract, win at least one MVP, be voted an All-Star starter at least twice or make the first-, second- or third-team All-NBA, voted by media members, twice.
Davis was a first-team All-NBA selection last season, so a selection to any of the three All-NBA teams this season would qualify him for the Rose provision, named for Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose.
Though he’s averaging 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and two blocks per game, Davis is no lock for a frontcourt spot on any of the three teams. Missing the last 14 games of the season doesn’t figure to help his cause, and “of course it came up” in discussions about ending his season, Davis said.
Davis said he’s played “plenty of games” for voters to decide if he’s an All-NBA selection, and said it “would have been selfish” if he’d tried to play with a bad knee to increase his chances of making a team.
“I told (the team), at the end of the day, I’m worried about my health,” Davis said. “If it happens, it happens. It’s going to take care of itself.”
The U.S. Olympic team also muddied the decision. Surgery and rehab mean Davis will miss the opportunity to play for USA Basketball in Brazil this summer. He’d been named one of 30 finalists for the team and was considered a virtual lock for a frontcourt spot.
On Monday, Davis’ voice broke briefly as he discussed the Olympics, which he called “one of the biggest decisions” in opting to shut it down.
“That’s tough. It’s definitely tough,” Davis said. “I’m 23 years old. Couple of more Olympics, maybe. It’s definitely a tough situation. I love USA Basketball. Loved when I was (in the Olympics) in 2012. Loved when I played the World Cup in 2014. It was definitely a tough decision. But I think everybody understands where health is more important.”
With the Olympics out of the picture, Davis will focus on recovery. He didn’t put a timetable on his return other than to say he was “100 percent” certain he’d be back for the start of next season.
“Of course you hear all these comeback stories like, ‘He was hurt and came back and went to another level,’” Davis said. “That’s what you think about. But it’s going to feel good to (say), ‘All right, this is not going to bother me, my knee’s not going to bother me’ and just go out and just play.”