The trade deadline and All-Star weekend are in the books.
Anthony Davis is still with the New Orleans Pelicans.
But that doesn’t mean the Davis saga in New Orleans is any clearer. Far from it.
The finality of the pre-deadline trade talks between the Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers has raised more questions than it’s answered and all but ensured a stretch run of drama and uncertainty surrounding Davis and his future.
What will the Pelicans do with Anthony Davis?
Aside from the most glaring question of where Davis will eventually land, how the Pelicans and Davis will manage the rest of the season is the most glaring concern.
A New Orleans Advocate report from after Sunday’s All-Star Game points to a team and a player almost as in the dark about what the immediate future holds as the rest of us.
Next week is going to be weird (again).
There are people within the Pelicans who believe AD has played his last game for the franchise.
AD has made it perfectly clear this weekend he intends to keep playing.
The NBA didn’t clarify its position. So what’s the tipping point?
— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) February 18, 2019
Somehow, we still don’t know if the Pelicans intend to give Davis regular minutes and what kind of pressure the team is under from the NBA to do so.
Without the outside pressures of maintaining the competitive integrity of the game and respecting a paying New Orleans fan base by putting the best product possible on the court, the correct answer here is obvious.
Davis should not play another game in New Orleans.
Even a small injury risk is too much
Even if relatively small, the risk of injury to Davis and any impending decrease in trade value presents a no-brainer for the Pelicans. They’re big losers in this deal and are forced now to pay the price for failing to build around a generational talent.
But they do have one shining light at the end of this sewage-filled tunnel. There will be a competitive trade market salivating over Davis this summer that should end up ensuring a decent haul for the Pelicans in return.
Davis injury would be devastating
If he gets seriously hurt — think DeMarcus Cousins Achilles tendon-hurt — that upside is out the window. And that’s enough reason to rest Davis for the remainder of his time with the team.
Some argue the risk that Davis could get hurt walking down the stairs or riding in a car as reason to continue to play him. He can get hurt doing anything, so the Pelicans might as well expose him to more injury risk.
That is a dumb argument.
Any action the Pelicans take to limit risk is the prudent one, and removing him from athletic competition removes the biggest reasonable injury risk in Davis’ daily life.
Other factors to consider
What isn’t a dumb argument involves the aforementioned concerns about competitive balance and doing right by Pelicans fans. Those elements can’t be removed from the equation, and that’s why this issue remains complicated.
Above all, basketball is entertainment. And even if Pelicans fans intend to show up to boo Davis with all their will, it’s not ethically right to charge full prices to a paying fanbase without regularly putting the best product possible on the floor.
New Orleans fans have suffered enough. They shouldn’t be submitted to a team headlined by Jrue Holiday and Jahlil Okafor when there’s a healthy Davis on the payroll.
Competitive integrity is a legitimate concern
And then there’s the matter of competitive balance. The Pelicans may not be concerned about the playoff race. But many of the teams they’ll face down the stretch certainly are. If Davis sits, those teams will be gifted an unnecessary competitive advantage that teams that faced New Orleans pre-Davis shutdown wouldn’t have.
And that’s a big reason there have been various reports about the NBA stepping in to pressure the Pelicans to put Davis on the floor. Whether the league has actually threatened $100,000-per game fines for sitting Davis isn’t clear.
According to the Advocate report, even the NBA isn’t sure how to handle things moving forward.
Things appeared much clearer at trade deadline
This matter appeared to be settled when the Pelicans announced shortly after the trade deadline that they intended to play Davis for the rest of the season.
Davis went out the next night and put on a prime performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 32 points and nine rebounds through three quarters. Then he sat on the bench for the rest of the game.
Two games later, Davis had a dreadful performance, scoring three points on 1-of-9 shooting in a 118-88 loss to the Orlando Magic.
Shoulder injury capped bizarre week for Pelicans
When he left the final game before the All-Star break against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a shoulder contusion, all the talk of playing him for the rest of the season seemed a ridiculous notion.
Fortunately for all involved, the injury wasn’t serious as Davis was healthy enough to play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, even if he was limited to five minutes as Team LeBron clearly had Davis’ best interests for his future in mind.
So, what now?
What this all adds up to is a murky, muddled mess for all parties involved. There’s no easy answer for what the Pelicans should do.
And because of that, compromise is the most likely scenario down the stretch. Look for the Pelicans to make half-hearted efforts to get Davis minutes — enough to appease the NBA while pretending that they’re concerned about fans and competitive balance.
How Gentry explains pulling Davis from a competitive game while urging the rest of his players to give their all will be his problem.
It will be a situation that leaves no involved parties satisfied.
This is what happens when trade demands play out in public.
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