What does AD want?
The best player in New Orleans Pelicans’ history desires something he hasn’t experienced during his first seven years in the NBA. We at least know that much.
Beyond the concept of change, though, it’s hard to pinpoint precisely what’s motivating Anthony Davis’ decision-making right now. And it’s left potential trade partners, and many around New Orleans, curious about what comes next with its limbo-ridden star.
In order to make a place his long-term home, does it require a blueprint for winning, a history of success or will a big market also be required? Is there any chance he reverses course and stays with the Pelicans, riding the franchise’s momentum of winning the most prized draft lottery in more than a decade?
On Wednesday we at least got a glimpse at an answer to one question. Davis met face-to-face with Pelicans’ executive VP David Griffin for the first time, allowing his current team’s new brass an opportunity to lay out a vision to the All-NBA talent over breakfast in Los Angeles.
And by the time Griffin departed, Davis’ representation made it publicly known his stance remained unchanged. Despite The Athletic’s Shams Charania reporting the meeting was “respectful and productive,” Davis still wants out.
Is it his permanent position? That’s hard to say.
Griffin isn’t likely to stop his pursuit this summer, even if it’s not face-to-face, with the end goal of somehow building enough trust and faith for Davis to reconsider his stance and potentially sign long-term. It’s a Hail Mary from the back of the end zone, but it’s one worth trying.
And Griffin’s timeline to get a deal done isn’t necessarily before the draft, or even before the season tips in October. He has until next February’s trade deadline to garner assets for a departing Davis, leaving a myriad of open-ended options in the present.
The problem is, it’s still unclear exactly what Davis is looking for.
When he initially requested the trade last January, with more than 110 games remaining on his contract, it was hard to blame him. While his approach and reaction were ham-handed and his public comments were confusing, there was no misconstruing what prompted his decision.
It was “his time,” Davis said repeatedly. After suffering through five losing seasons in seven years, and in the midst of a crushingly disappointing campaign, Davis wanted to play for a successful franchise capable of surrounding him with star talent, improving his chance to win at a level the self-proclaimed “most dominant player in the league” should.
It set off alarms in the Pelicans’ offices, prompting owner Gayle Benson to pound the reset button on the franchise organizational chart, removing Saints’ executive Mickey Loomis from decision-making and firing longtime general manager Dell Demps in the process. Then she hired Griffin and injected unprecedented financial investment into the basketball side of Airline Drive.
Griffin was publicly hopeful Benson’s reboot would cause Davis to re-think his position on the Pelicans, and once they landed the chance to draft Zion Williamson, it only added juice to the pitch. After all, only New Orleans can offer Davis a $240 million supermax extension, and is coupling it with a financial commitment in the medical and personnel staff, while adding the most coveted college player to enter the draft in a generation.
But, despite all of that, Davis remains unmoved.
Perhaps there’s residual bitterness from the way the franchise operated previously, not seeing the proper level of financial investment until he opted to walk away. Or he could be untrusting of his relationship with the city, which jeered him on a handful of occasions after he first informed the world he wanted to leave town.
Over time, those fences could be mended, and fans wouldn’t need much prompting to wholly embrace Davis again, as long as he explained his decision to return and performed to his typical standards.
But, it still doesn’t answer the ultimate question. What does he want?
Because if all he wishes for is a change of venue, then there’s nothing left for the Pelicans to do. But, from an objective perspective the Pelicans can offer Davis the most money, the chance to grow alongside the most talented teenager in basketball, and a franchise eager to prove it learned its lesson.
Yet, it’s still overwhelmingly likely that’s not enough to sway him.
So, where does Davis eventually land?
The franchises he at one time viewed as favorites, like the Knicks and Lakers, aren’t in position to make the best deal. And the trade partners with the best assets for Griffin to acquire are dubious about giving up prized pieces to simply rent the final year of Davis’ contract.
It leaves everything at a momentary stalemate, until it becomes clear exactly what Davis wants.
But based on his actions over the past few months, it’s hard to distinguish if Davis even knows what he wants. This whole saga is muddy and the only consistent line is Davis’ camp claiming he wants out.
Which is why Griffin’s meeting in Los Angeles was considered “productive,” even if Davis’ stance remained unchanged. Because any information gleaned right now could pay major dividends for Griffin as he shops the open market, while leaving the door open for the scant possibility of reconciliation.
In order to move forward, Griffin needs to know what Davis wants, because if he agrees to make a commitment to his next franchise, the stakes of the trade grow exponentially.
But, right now, we’re all just guessing what Davis is ultimately seeking. That includes Davis himself.