It has been, by coach Alvin Gentry’s admission, “a terrible year,” and on that point it’s hard to argue with the Pelicans coach.
But there still could be one more turn for the worse.
New Orleans team officials planned to speak via conference call with doctors Saturday about a pair of injuries to star forward Anthony Davis — a left knee injury he suffered in Friday’s loss to Portland and an apparently lingering shoulder issue — and Gentry didn’t rule out the possibility of shutting down Davis for the rest of the season.
“I think we’ll know a lot more after they talk to the doctors today, and then I think there can be some decisions made,” Gentry said. “But I think that’s something that you would definitely have to consider.”
Though Davis is out for Sunday’s 5 p.m. home game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Pelicans don’t figure to enter lightly into any discussion of sitting him for the full 14 games remaining on the schedule.
A cautious approach to Davis is both sensible — he’s the most important figure in the franchise, playing for a team perhaps now best served to improve its draft lottery chances by losing — and complicated.
The five-year contract extension Davis signed in the offseason becomes $23 million richer if he qualifies for the NBA’s “Rose Rule,” which would allow his salary to take up 30 percent of the Pelicans’ salary cap as opposed to 25 percent.
To qualify for the Rose Rule — named for Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose — a player must, while under his rookie contract, win at least one MVP award, be voted an All-Star starter at least twice or make the first-, second- or third-team All-NBA twice.
Davis made first-team All-NBA last season, so a selection to any of the All-NBA teams this season would lock in the full value of the contract. And despite his strong numbers — 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game — missing the last 14 games likely would be a detriment to Davis’ chances.
At 25-43, the Pelicans entered Saturday 8½ games out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Any combination of Dallas wins and Pelicans losses totaling six would knock New Orleans out of the playoff race, and Gentry admitted Saturday that “it seems like the playoffs are not going to be an option.”
Asked Saturday whether that reality — along with a pair of injuries — might make the Pelicans more inclined to shut down Davis for the stretch run, Gentry said, “I wouldn’t say no to that.”
“I think we’ve got to be smart collectively, along with (Davis),” Gentry said.
Whatever the doctors say about Davis, even the consideration of sitting him for the season keeps with a recent theme around the franchise. New Orleans is turning the page to next season.
Increasingly in recent weeks, Gentry has talked about this season in terms of the next. He has used words like “foundation” and “culture” to talk about laying groundwork for what would be his second season in New Orleans.
The first by any measure has been a disappointment. The Pelicans have missed 230 player games to injury and illness. Four players — forward Quincy Pondexter and guards Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Bryce Dejean-Jones — are out for the rest of the season.
On Saturday, Pondexter — who has not played at all this season and who Jan. 20 had his second knee surgery since last season ended — met with reporters to discuss what he called “the beginning of a long rehab process.”
Pondexter wanted badly to return this season — “Almost tried witch doctors to try to get me back on the court,” he said — but he knew even before the second surgery it was a long shot. He said his latest surgery, to replace cartilage in his left knee, went well and guaranteed he would be 100 percent healthy by the start of training camp.
This season has been a challenge, he said, but he also is looking ahead to the next.
“Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Pondexter said. “You can be blind-sided by a season like this. But it makes you cherish winning a lot more. It’s going to make us take this offseason a lot more serious (when we’re) building something for the future and remember these hard times like this season.”
Gentry said Saturday that “the No. 1 thing is that we want to try to win games” down the stretch. But he added that there’s “a much bigger fish to fry out there” in terms of building for next year.
He wants better execution. He wants a faster pace. He wants to find an identity his team can carry into the offseason.
“No one — no one — anticipated the position that we’re in right now,” Gentry said. “I know I didn’t, and I’m sure the players and management and no one else did. Not even you (media) guys.
“But we have gone through that and, to me, you take something like this and you try to make it a positive, or you try to learn something from what you’re going through that you can apply to the next season and make that season better.”