CHARLOTTE — Last week, as Anthony Davis ambled down the hallway and out of the Smoothie King Center alongside agent Rich Paul, the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans were playing their final quarter before the All-Star break.
It was a moment so perfectly encapsulating of the team’s current context, it nearly defied reality.
A nearly equal occasion happened in the Spectrum Center on Sunday night, when Davis took the stage for starting lineups as part of Team LeBron, while still representing the franchise he’s already decided to depart.
It’s all bizarre, but it’s all real.
Despite the turmoil that has engulfed the New Orleans Pelicans over the past few weeks regarding the team's future without star forward Anthon…
Like it or not, Davis is still the Pelicans’ most recognizable star, even as the team eagerly tries to turn the page on his era in New Orleans.
By my observation, the Pelicans were the only team not to send any digital media representatives to tag along and promote their All-Star at his media session, significantly reducing their acknowledgment on Davis’ sixth appearance from his previous five.
It sent a clear message. The Pelicans are ready to move on and need a new face of the franchise.
After years of playing up Davis as the frontman, the squad is a mostly anonymous group right now.
And as Davis’ saga out of New Orleans winds endlessly from headline-to-headline and week-to-week, gobbling up all of the oxygen around the team, the remaining, unassuming Pelicans are trying to be as oblivious to the noise as the noise is to them. Despite the Davis circus, they’re just trying to do what any basketball team at any level does.
Compete and win games.
The New Orleans Pelicans will have some franchise-defining decisions to make in the next few months.
Yet even when the Pelicans accomplish that goal, it’s hardly noticed. When they polished off the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder last week, SportsCenter led with Davis’ ignominious exit, rather than Jrue Holiday out-dueling Russell Westbrook.
“I don’t know if he left,” coach Alvin Gentry said, before then being told it was captured by TNT’s cameras. “I’m happy for the guys who played the game and we won.”
Seconds later, Gentry was asked if Davis’ early exit bothered him. After a few words, he slapped his water bottle, crumpled a box score and stormed back into the locker room.
And no one blamed him.
Throughout the past few weeks, so many parties have lost prestige.
Davis looks selfish and immature. The NBA appears to be overreaching and unfair. The Pelicans seem weak and afraid of standing up to the league.
Yet, two people have emerged from this mess as sympathetic, admirable figures.
Alvin Gentry and Jrue Holiday.
Two guys who were already going through a tough slog of a season were suddenly tasked with carrying unnecessary added responsibilities. They have done so without public complaint and without insulting the culprit who put them in this position to begin with.
In the end, this debacle will be remembered for what went wrong.
The Anthony Davis saga took another turn Friday in the firing of GM Dell Demps, and he may have been a factor by disappearing.
Davis’ ill-timed, poorly expressed trade demand. Rich Paul’s demonstrable, remarkable conflict of interest. The ugly information war, demeaning the Lakers’ young roster. The NBA’s reckless decision to make the Pelicans play Davis, stirring local backlash in its wake.
There is so much guilt to assign. It’s natural and inescapable to point at the myriad of culprits and use them to write the story of this bizarre chapter in franchise history.
But, there should be a moment to appreciate the stoicism provided by Gentry and Holiday, who carried the mantle as the face and voice of a team thrust into a tornado of nonsense, then asked to work like it’s business as usual.
It would be easy for Holiday and Gentry to cave under this storm. To throw in the towel on competing, lose their poise and either avoid cameras or use the time to hurl insults.
Instead, they continued to show up and do their job, while publicly acknowledging life is different than it was a month ago and letting fans know the same.
Neither of them will ever reach the fame Davis achieved in New Orleans, as a two-time first-team All-NBA talent and international superstar who is coveted by LeBron James.
But, for those who are paying attention and care about the Pelicans, Gentry and Holiday are the stewards who should be remembered for carrying a wounded franchise across a period of dread with dignity and pride.
It’s not the type of face of the franchise that gets recognized on an All-Star stage or headlines commercials, but what Gentry and Holiday are doing might just be more meaningful in the long run.