The New Orleans Pelicans' snakebitten season now will have an appropriate ending. The team announced Sunday that Anthony Davis will miss the rest of the regular season as he deals with nagging knee and shoulder injuries, and the star big man confirmed Monday that addressing those maladies will keep him from suiting up for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Davis banged knees with Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum on Friday and did not practice on Saturday. Coach Alvin Gentry warned after that practice that his All-Star could be a candidate to sit out his last 14 games, but most sloughed off the idea, as a stat-padding finish to the season would possibly result in a significant contract bonus boost for AD. More on that later.
Gentry revealed that Davis had been dealing with a shoulder injury for the entire season, and he has an issue with his left knee that's going to need correction. Gentry didn't specify, but it appears Davis could require surgery on both his shoulder and knee.
The team confirmed Sunday that Davis will undergo procedures to correct both a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a left knee injury. Davis told reporters Monday that the post-surgery recovery timetable that's been laid out for him will keep him out for four to five months — "It sucks, but it's something that has to be done" — which means that he won't be able to play for Mike Krzyzewski on the U.S. men's national basketball team as he did in winning gold medals at the 2012 Summer Games in London and the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
"That's tough. It's definitely tough," Davis said. "Twenty-three years old ... [I've got] a couple more Olympics, maybe? It's definitely a tough situation. I love USA Basketball [...] It was definitely a tough decision, but I think everybody understands where health is more important than [being] on the court."
As he revealed during Monday's media session, full health is something that's eluded Davis for the last three years.
"I did my shoulder my rookie year, and I've always just played through it," he said. "They told me eventually it has to happen, and gradually it's just been getting worse. It's something I've got to take care of now [...] That's why I would always wear that shirt underneath [my jersey]. It helped stabilize it. I just want to play, you know what I mean? When you want to play, you find ways."
Davis described the shoulder pain as something that comes and goes, saying that there are days where he feels no pain, as well as days where "you wake up and just because it's raining, you're going to start hurting." And yet, Davis told reporters Monday that pain itself isn't the main driver behind the decision to repair the labrum now.
"It was fine. I think the biggest thing was just because of the knee," he said. "Me and the organization came to conversation, and just trying to figure out what's the best situation, and since the knee is what really has to get really looked at, might as well do the shoulder as well, instead of waiting and then if something happens to the shoulder, now you've got to do it all over and it's just a waste of time. So, might as well knock both of them out at one time."
It's not yet clear whether Davis will be ready in time for training camp or the preseason, but he did say he fully expects to be back on the court in time for a 2016-17 campaign that New Orleans hopes will unfold very, very differently from this one.
The Pelicans entered 2015-16 as a postseason hopeful following the team’s run to the playoffs last season — they eked into the West’s eighth seed due to a tie-breaking scenario over the Oklahoma City Tunder, with Davis literally shooting his team into that regular season advantage. Coming off a season where he led the NBA in total blocks and Player Efficiency Rating, Davis was considered a dark horse MVP candidate.
A litany of injuries hamstrung New Orleans’ chances, however, in Gentry’s first year as head coach. A rough early season schedule added to the derailment, as the Pelicans started 2015-16 by losing 11 of its first 12 games. Regular season disappointments from other Western playoff contenders made it so even that disastrous of a start wouldn’t preclude them from making yet another playoff run, but the team's stuck at 26-43, the league’s sixth-worst record.
Ironically, guard Jrue Holiday (who started the season on a minutes restriction after a series of stress fractures in his leg), is the only Pelican regular working in full health at this point.
In most other scenarios, shutting down the franchise player would seem to be a boon for a team’s lottery odds. The Pelicans are a full four games “behind” the fifth-worst Minnesota Timberwolves, however, and while dropping a player averaging more than 24 points, 10 rebound and two blocks per game from an already-limping lineup would seem to guarantee a series of losses, absolutely nothing is certain with laughingstocks like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers trampling underfoot.
Then there is the case of Davis’ contract, which makes the move to shelve him somewhat unsettling.
As CBS’ James Herbert reminded us all when news of Anthony’s absence from practice hit, Davis stands to make a rather significant bonus if he makes one of the three All-NBA teams. Negotiated in 2011 to prevent both rookie deals and maxed-out post-rookie deal contract extensions a little less bargain-y for teams, “the Rose Rule” (named after Derrick Rose, who won an MVP on a rookie contract prior to his extension) ramps up a player’s contract terms.
Davis was the first of his draft class to immediately sign his extension with the then-ascending Pelicans last July, and it will kick in starting in 2016-17. If he’s voted into an All-NBA team, that extension will shoot up some $24 million.
Davis, at times, acts as the NBA’s best player and he certainly remains one of its best big men. However, voters might pass on giving an All-NBA designation to a player that will finish 2015-16 having missed 21 of 82 games, working on a team that is currently ranked 25th in defensive efficiency.
It’s true that the heaps of games lost to injury from his teammates created an atmosphere that didn’t allow for back to back postseason trips for NOLA, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t significant questions surrounding Davis’ candidacy. Especially with a return to form for Paul George, yet another breakout season for Draymond Green, fully-healthy years from LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, and the sustained brilliance of types like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul Millsap.
That is to say, even for one of the league’s brightest talents, it will be a crowded field. And we certainly hope that Anthony Davis is a willing partner in this shutdown, that this is a mutual decision, and that the Pelicans aren’t eyeing the eventual bottom line. He acknowledged Monday that the potential raise was a topic of conversation in the discussion about whether or not to shut it down, but said he ultimately decided to err on the side of caution.
"Of course it came up, but you know, I told [management] at the end of the day, I'm worried about my health," Davis said Monday. "Like, if it happens, it happens. It's going to take care of itself. I think if I would have [approached it like], 'Oh, well, I can keep playing,' and my knee, and all this, it would have been selfish [...] I'm not even worried about that right now."
Frustrations abound from stem to stern with this franchise. Anthony Davis only just turned 23, but everyone involved has to be getting a little impatient.
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