In many ways, this is a fitting end to the Anthony Davis era.
The recognition of brilliant play and gaudy statistical output is offset by the accompanying sobriety of another losing season and lingering skepticism about his injuries' severity.
In short, during Davis’ time in New Orleans he was often spectacular, but the Pelicans rarely were.
Davis is the greatest player in franchise history. It’s a fact often overlooked, especially since his January trade request caused the drama surrounding his future to overwhelm his presence on the court.
It’s exceedingly likely he will exit the home locker room of the Smoothie King Center for the final time Tuesday night, when the Pelicans host the Golden State Warriors in their season finale.
Yet there’s little fanfare around Davis’ farewell. Mostly because it’s long past time for this relationship to end, as exhibited on Wednesday when Davis’ vulgar gesture toward a combative fan prompted the NBA to levy a $15,000 fine.
In reality, his connection with the franchise and the city imploded the second he demanded a way out.
From the shock of that moment to the furor created in the ensuing days, when Davis silently allowed his agent to inflame the entire affair by pressuring the franchise to make a swap with a preferred partner (primarily the Lakers), the relationship wholly unraveled. And when the trade deadline deal never reached fruition, it left the organization and its most decorated player in a perpetual state of uncomfortable limbo.
The NBA announced Thursday evening that they've fined Pelicans forward Anthony Davis $15,000 for an obscene gesture directed at a fan.
So here is Davis, sitting out the final weeks of the season because of suspicious “back spasms," while the Pelicans are in the midst of interviewing potential general managers whose first major assignment will be to move Davis elsewhere for the final year of his contract.
It’s a predicament that was nearly impossible to foresee at this time last year. Davis become a dark-horse MVP finalist as he led the Pelicans to the second-best season in franchise history and a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in front a jam-packed and raucous home crowd.
Those memories seem much more distant than 12 months ago.
These days, the Smoothie King Center is half-empty most nights, as the Pelicans trot out a rotation chock-full of fringe NBA talents and the team counts down the days until the draft lottery.
How did they get here so fast? And what does it mean for the Pelicans to move on from Davis?
Ultimately, the root of the problem, from Davis’ and the Pelicans’ perspective, is the same: losing.
It’s painful. And for someone of Davis’ caliber, it took a toll on his reputation, particularly after he referred to himself as “the most dominant player in the league” during the past offseason.
Even with a flawed roster-building apparatus around him, created by recently fired general manager Dell Demps, a true MVP is expected to lift mediocrity into contention. More often than not, Davis simply couldn’t.
He grew tired of trying and asked for a way out, hoping to join a team with more All-Star talent so he could chase the championship he couldn’t even envision with the Pelicans.
The New Orleans Pelicans are forging ahead in their search to find a new general manager.
It’s not an uncommon refrain in today’s NBA. Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have all demanded their way out from far better teams for the chance to thrive elsewhere.
But the truth is, Davis didn’t take the Pelicans where fans expected him to.
It’s why his legacy in New Orleans will always be a cloudy one. Because nearly all of his success enhanced his own profile more than his team’s.
Davis achieved more first-team All-NBA selections (three) than he did playoff appearances (two), a terribly rare feat. He tallied more All-Star appearances (six) than total playoff wins (five), nearly unheard of in a league where postseason success supersedes all other metrics of superstardom.
So, yes, the best player in franchise history is about to walk out of the door for the final time. But will the Pelicans really be much worse off?
In many ways, this entire saga can breathe new life into a moribund franchise, which received a thumping reality check after spending far too long hanging all of its hopes on Davis’ rising star.
The early returns are positive. Not only did the Pelicans move on from Demps, they shook up their power structure, removing Saints general manager Mickey Loomis from the basketball operations decisions and handing the team’s next leader a direct line to owner Gayle Benson.
It’s a vitally important step in the franchise’s viability, and one that likely wouldn’t have been learned without Davis’ exit.
In the future, this team can be built in a sustainable way by using draft and trade assets to assemble a real nucleus of a team, rather than randomly affixing moving pieces around Davis. To summarize: This wasn’t working anyway, so a separation, while ugly in nature, is likely best for all involved.
Eventually, Davis will be celebrated for the success he had in New Orleans. Time will heal the wounds of the past few months, and those who watched him play will remember how he graced this city with greatness on so many nights.
But he will never be truly beloved here. That kind of adoration is reserved for those who have carried their team to the championship heights or embraced the city despite the struggle to get there.
Davis was excellent, but he did neither.
So it’s fitting that his tenure in New Orleans, which at one time stimulated so much optimism, is ending with a whimper.
ANTHONY DAVIS' FIVE MOST IMPACTFUL MOMENTS FOR THE PELICANS
April 15, 2015: Smoothie King Center — Powering to the Playoffs
In just his third season, Davis hoisted himself into the MVP race by carrying the Pelicans into playoff contention over the final three months of the season. It all came down to one game. The Pelicans’ stirring 108-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs clinched the team’s first postseason berth since 2011, and Davis led the way with 31 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks to put his name on the national map.
April 21, 2018: Smoothie King Center — Sweeping Them Away
The Pelicans finished off an emphatic four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, riding Davis’ 47-point, 10-rebound outburst to eliminate the No. 3 seeded Blazers without having to return to Portland. As Davis stepped to the free-throw line to put the finishing touches on his best postseason performance, a packed arena chanted “MVP” in unison.
Feb. 26, 2016: Auburn Hills, Mich. — Dropping 59
Davis broke the franchise record in a road win over the Detroit Pistons, and became the first player since 2000 to score at least 59 points while grabbing 20 rebounds. He did it by making a remarkably efficient 24 of his 34 field goal attempts, roasting the Pistons from all over the floor. It was a night when Davis found the peak of his offensive powers and showed he could thoroughly dominate an opponent.
Oct. 26, 2016: Smoothie King Center — 50 Not Enough
In a game that was emblematic of Davis’ tenure in New Orleans and the 2016-17 season in particular, Davis scored 50 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished five assists, swiped five steals and blocked four shots … in a 107-102 loss on opening night to the Denver Nuggets. Davis was responsible for nearly half of the Pelicans’ offensive output and got such minimal support from his teammates that the Pelicans couldn’t beat a lottery-bound Nuggets team on their home court.
Feb. 6, 2015: Oklahoma City — At The Buzzer
The most memorable single shot of Davis’ time in New Orleans was draining an unlikely buzzer-beating 3-pointer over an outstretched Kevin Durant, knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder to cap a 41-point outburst. The last-second win proved doubly important at season’s end, because it sealed the regular season series win over OKC, which served as a tiebreaker to propel to Pelicans into the playoffs.