When it comes to the New Orleans Pelicans these days, seeing is believing.
Because it looks like the Pelicans play harder and more cohesive when Anthony Davis isn’t on the court, even if the numbers don’t always bear it out. But, no one inside the locker room or organization is willing to publicly say Davis’ presence is hurting the team’s chances.
So, the question arises: Do you trust what you see or what you hear?
A miraculous six-game comeback with 20 left to play this season aside, the Pelicans' plan post-All-Star break has been playing the long game –…
Because over the past month, when Anthony Davis sits, more often than not, the Pelicans don’t look like a listless, lifeless group burdened by a sorrowful situation. While low on talent, they rise to the level of a scrappy, undermanned group who doesn’t often win, but draws praise from fans and coach Alvin Gentry for the way they conduct themselves.
There’s a difference between losing and tanking. And although Davis isn’t playing maximum minutes, this isn’t tanking.
But, often, when Davis checks in, the team’s energy appears to wane, even though no one inside the organization will say it when asked publicly whether the Pelicans play harder without Davis.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Gentry said. “I think we play hard all of the time. I don’t know how you answer that question. And I don’t think it’s a fair question to ask.”
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With respect to Gentry, who has been put in a challenging public-facing position, it’s not just a fair question, it’s the only question to ask right now. Considering the Pelicans are winding their way toward the final 20 games of an unspeakably tumultuous season with the playoffs out of reach, the only goal left for this team is to properly gauge what’s coming next while adding a dose of dignity and integrity to the proceedings.
And the juxtaposition of Davis’ presence was never clearer than the past two outings, when New Orleans thrashed the Los Angeles Lakers and turned a 15-point deficit into a last-second loss to the Philadelphia 76ers while their soon-departing superstar watched from the sideline.
At least the crowd recognized the change, with the smattering of Pelicans fans intently pulling in unison, rather than a portion focused on directing anger toward Davis.
Forgive the Pelicans and their fans if the celebration Saturday night looked like more than a regular-season win should merit.
“I think we just stayed consistent, played hard,” Holiday said after a 111-110 loss to the 76ers, which saw Davis exit with New Orleans trailing by 15 with 17 minutes remaining. “Momentum was on our side once we started coming back. The crowd got into it, and from there I think our energy just kind of took that forward. It started off with the second unit though.
“Them playing hard, knowing that just to give ourselves a chance we have to play hard. Cheick (Diallo) went in, running the lane; Frank (Jackson) running lanes. They did a great job.”
Those Davis-less Pelicans might not be particularly talented. And it’s easy to be skeptical about their ultimate upside.
But they’re at least showing what the Pelicans want to see most at the moment. From the top of the organization to the fan in the last row of the Smoothie King Center.
“Competing every night, I think that’s really the focus,” interim general manager Danny Ferry told Fox Sports New Orleans. “We want to grow our young guys. But the only way to do it is to get after it every night. Any night you take a night off is a night missed where guys can get better.”
And for those using their eyes to judge, it’s clear the Pelicans’ best effort is coming when Davis isn’t there.
Don’t become immune to the absurdity of this debacle.
The most beloved player in franchise history is getting jeered on his home court. A franchise desperately trying to move forward is being handcuffed to its past, thanks to an overreaching league failing to properly balance moral hazard with difficult realities.
The routine nature of the NBA schedule and prolonged period this has transpired over makes it feel like a new normal, but by any measure this saga is still overwhelmingly strange and unprecedented.
For their part, Ferry said the Pelicans are following the NBA’s lead and acting within their guidelines. Davis is under contract until July 2020 and there’s a chance New Orleans will need to play the long game, maintaining maximum flexibility if the right offer doesn’t come along as quickly as most expect.
For his part, Davis said the Pelicans’ brass is clearly communicating their plan with him, limiting minutes to not only mitigate injury risk but also allow younger players to finish games, providing valuable self-scouting opportunities.
Given the current set of circumstances, it’s the most logical way to navigate a peculiar position, trying to achieve the dual goals of focusing on the future while remaining reluctantly tethered to Davis.
With the league seemingly unconcerned about insulting the intelligence of customers, who are obviously projecting their displeasure by booing their own star, the rest of the Pelicans’ roster is making the best case for ending this whole charade now.
Put simply, the Pelicans are better to watch and more competitive when Davis isn’t playing. And isn’t that really the goal of these next six weeks?
So, will the NBA swallow its foolish assumptions and reverse course on this farce?
All it takes is seeing it to know it’s the right thing to do.