It’s not done yet.
Yes, the NBA’s trade deadline came and went Thursday afternoon, and Anthony Davis is still on the New Orleans Pelicans’ roster, much to the chagrin of Davis, his agency, LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers and millions of Lakers fans.
But despite all of the pressure to get a deal done, and the myriad of reports, here we are.
Davis is still under contract with the Pelicans. The Pelicans still have basketball games to play.
Davis, a healthy, 25-year-old basketball player, wants to play in them. His teammate, Jrue Holiday said he wants Davis to play in them, too.
And on Friday night, there Davis was, playing for the Pelicans.
Simple, right? Not exactly.
Sources close to the situation say the NBA office pressured the Pelicans to keep Davis in the lineup, and the team’s press release all but spells out their obligation to the league. It isn’t a token gesture.
Sources confirmed Davis expected to play in the 25-minute range, not simply get into uniform, check onto the floor and check out. He is a part of the team, helping the Pelicans win games they don’t really care to win, with the playoffs out of realistic reach.
“Moreover, the Pelicans want to preserve the integrity of the game and align our organization with NBA policies,” Thursday’s statement from general manager Dell Demps read. "We believe Anthony playing upholds the values that are in the best interest of the NBA and its fans. We look forward to seeing Anthony in a Pelicans uniform again soon.”
Do they really?
Who in New Orleans does this possibly benefit?
Considering Davis was a healthy scratch in Wednesday’s win in Chicago, as a precaution before the trade deadline, it’s fair to assume the Pelicans understand the risk. It was only 13 months ago that the instantaneous snap of an Achilles tendon sent DeMarcus Cousins from the verge of a maximum contract to playing for $5.3 million.
What if the same fate strikes Davis, and his trade value plummets, but his request to leave still stands? The franchise has revolved around Davis for years and desperately needs a haul of assets in return for his departure just to stay competitive.
This could drastically alter the course of the Pelicans’ future.
Clearly, it’s an unlikely and worst-case scenario, but even beyond those grim, remote possibilities there are real-world realities staring everyone in the face.
After being all but washed away from the team’s marketing and in-game presentation over the past 11 days, Davis re-took court in a Pelicans uniform despite flatly stating he doesn’t want to be a part of the team’s future.
It was weird. He was booed in the starting lineups and booed some more on every first-quarter touch.
While there were some cheers when went to the free-throw line, and when he scored, the negativity was impossible to ignore.
His appearance on the floor works against every single one of the Pelicans' current goals. Not only do they not turn the page from the AD era, they’re more likely to win games and hurt their position in the draft lottery, while taking away minutes from younger prospects like Jahlil Okafor and Cheick Diallo.
Lose. Lose. Lose.
But the NBA leaned on the Pelicans. And the franchise accepted it.
And it’s not coming out of nowhere. There are rules in place to protect ticket-holders and broadcast partners from marketable players missing games when healthy enough to play.
Those rules, according to the Associated Press, prohibit clubs from “resting healthy players for any high-profile, nationally televised game,” such as Friday’s ESPN tilt against the Timberwolves. Doing so, the rules state, “will constitute conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA and result in a fine of at least $100,000.”
But who is this good for? Certainly not the majority of Pelicans fans, the supposed beneficiaries, who are instead being held in an obtuse limbo.
It was bad when the Pelicans were losing. It was worse when Davis requested a trade.
Now, it’s just awkward, uncomfortable and bizarre. And it’s confusing to customers, who deserve be treated in a straightforward manner.
Are they really expected to grab that No. 23 jersey from the trash can, color in the space between their eyebrows and pretend Davis isn’t abandoning them at the end of the year? It’s one thing to respect his decision to move on because the franchise failed him, but asking fans to cheer for him like a minor league city, saying farewell as he prepares for the big show, is off-putting, alienating and embarrassing.
This decision isn’t being made for Pelicans fans, even if the NBA wants to sell it as such. Perhaps it’s being made for television viewers, a few thousand of whom may care more if Davis is playing.
But it’s not worth this circus.
The last two weeks have been difficult enough for those who follow this moribund franchise. There’s been absolutely no vision given about the future, the present is confusing on an unprecedented level, and the past is wholly unremarkable.
The Pelicans need to send a message from the top of the organization to its fans, explaining what has happened and what they’ll do to fix it. So far, the only person to speak on the organization’s behalf is coach Alvin Gentry, whose power is limited to on-court affair.
Someone in ownership or at least management needs to give their own fans a voice, because their star player is leaving them, the NBA is dismissing them and their own franchise hasn’t said anything.
Simply put, this whole escapade is far from over. And it somehow got even stranger and more uncomfortable.