The New Orleans Pelicans, as we know them, hinge on a medical report.
It may sound dramatic and overstated, but with the availability of Anthony Davis mired in the murky waters of medical terminology, the stakes of his diagnosis are nearly impossible to overemphasize in the context of this franchise.
Even a reworked Pelicans’ roster, highlighted by All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and point guard Rajon Rondo, simply doesn’t have enough firepower to compete for the top half of the Western Conference standings without Davis.
And when the All-NBA forward plopped to the ground like a ton of bricks Friday, after receiving ever-so-slight contact from Utah center Derrick Favors, it was an ominous sign.
When Davis couldn’t get off of the floor on his own power and was reportedly taken to the locker room via wheelchair, the foreboding signal was even worse.
Yet Pelicans officials said the MRI Davis underwent Saturday in Portland failed to reveal the full scope of severity, forcing the team to wait until Sunday to make a true determination on just how long Davis could be sidelined.
“He’s got a groin pull and we’re not sure the extent of it yet,” coach Alvin Gentry told reporters before Saturday’s game against the Trail Blazers. “He had an MRI that was a little inconclusive, but he will take one when we get back to New Orleans and we’ll find out the full depth of the injury.”
It’s hard to imagine the anxiety flowing through Gentry and general manager Dell Demps in the meantime.
Just last week, it looked like the Pelicans had finally clicked. Three consecutive victories, including impressive home comebacks over the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, started to catch the league’s attention and drove New Orleans a game out of the No. 3 spot in the West.
Davis won the Western Conference Player of the Week award, punishing opponents from all angles. And if the eye test weren’t obvious enough, the numbers clearly demonstrate Davis’ value to the Pelicans.
In Davis’ 733 minutes, New Orleans outscores its opponents by 5.0 points per 100 possessions, the best mark on the team. Meanwhile, they’ve been outscored by 13.0 points per 100 possessions in the Pelicans 328 minutes played without Davis (entering Saturday), lapping the field in negative impact.
Plain and simple. This team can thrive with Anthony Davis and is likely to fail without him.
Yes, Cousins is capable of taking over a game offensively and is an awe-inspiring albeit occasionally uneven performer. Jrue Holiday is a talented two-way player. Rondo is swift, smart and savvy.
But Davis, as he has since 2013, fuels the Pelicans.
His value crystallized even further when Gentry laid out one of the initial options of how to replace one of the game’s 10 best players.
“We’ll play Dante (Cunningham) there and we’ve been trying to work Omer (Asik) back into the lineup, so we’ll try to play him some early,” Gentry told the Pelicans radio broadcast team before Saturday’s game, when asked what they’ll do to fill Davis’ role in the starting lineup.
It’s not Gentry’s fault. These are the choices at his disposal, considering he’s been handed a top-heavy roster built to go all in on a playoff campaign this season.
The Pelicans are constructed like a pyramid, with Davis and Cousins’ broad shoulders hoisting the rest of the team upward. When half of the foundation is removed, the building is likely to tip over.
And if it tips over, it’s collapsing on top of the entire organization underneath it. It’s no secret the future of Gentry, Demps and their staffs revolve around a postseason appearance this season.
Not to mention Cousins is in the final year of his contract, primed to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. And it’s difficult to picture attracting him to re-sign without the team success he publicly desires or recalibrating this roster into a contender without him.
And Davis’ free agency is pending just a few more years down the line.
The entire public-facing persona of the Pelicans, except Pierre and King Cake Baby, could pivot on Sunday’s medical report.
If Davis is out temporarily, New Orleans will suffer but can withstand the absence thanks to Cousins, Holiday, Rondo and others. If he’s out for a prolonged period, it could send tremors through this franchise with long-lasting affects.
So forgive the folks on Airline Drive if they’re a little anxious Sunday.