It’s over, finally. The Pelicans survived.
But it’s not actually over, and the Pelicans must survive again.
Yes, the trade deadline passed with Anthony Davis still on the roster, leaving the Lakers spurned and the Celtics and Knicks hopeful that the offseason will bring the unibrowed superstar out east. But if the trade deadline was a zombie apocalypse, the Pelicans were the humans, and the Lakers trade the zombies, the Pelicans aren’t quite free yet. They have walled themselves into a mall, but the helicopter (a good Davis deal) hasn’t arrived to carry them to safety.
The remaining hurdle, of course, is the decision that the
League Pelicans made to keep Anthony Davis in their roster for the remainder of the season. The logic is that Davis is healthy, and healthy players shouldn’t be held out. So because the team doesn’t want to alienate their fanbase (not that this would do that) or piss off the NBAPA, Davis will be suiting up for the Pelicans at least a few more times before he is ultimately traded.
The risk is obvious. Anthony Davis has never played a full season. Out of a possible 547 games in his career, Davis has played in 451, or about 82% of possible games. Long labeled injury prone, Davis has played 75 games twice in his career, with the rest of the seasons looking like my college Physics grades. To be fair to him, he has never had a very serious injury — mostly he’s just had a few random injuries here and there. But the fact remains that as of right now, Anthony Davis is not a Pelicans player as much as he is a potentially deteriorating asset. He has made it clear he doesn’t want to stay with the Pelicans long term, and so playing the rest of the season is a risk that he will get injured and that the trade market for him will dramatically dwindle.
An argument could be made that the Pelicans created this situation by A.) failing to build a team that Davis wants to stay with and B.) failing to trade him before the trade deadline expired. But both of those arguments will largely be made by disappointed Lakers fans who now need to look forward to potentially another year of missing the playoffs. The Pelicans did fail to build a winner, and I hope that Pelicans fans will never forget this, because it is important to point your anger in many different directions, including the organization who started this by mismanagement. And yes, the Pelicans could have traded Davis to his intended target of the Lakers if they didn’t care about getting a good return. But they did care. I don’t blame them for waiting, because it makes sense to test the market when the rest of the market can actually make offers. But whether or not it was a smart decision, it has created the proverbial woods of which they are not yet out.
As long as we’re talking about people we don’t blame, I don’t blame Davis for wanting to play. He’s healthy (for now), and basketball is how he makes his living, so of course he’ll want to play. And at the end of the day, I speculate that Davis wants to be liked. This entire thing has made him (fairly or unfairly) persona non grata in the Big Easy, and that’s not a position he is used to. He knows he will probably be booed when he is first announced, but maybe he thinks that if he dunks, or hits a turnaround shot, or makes a monster block, that he can have the crowd cheer for him again. He probably also wants to go out on a better note than demanding a trade and hurting his finger.
But this undoubtedly hurts the Pelicans. Not only is a healthy Davis bad for the Pelicans’ draft chances in a season that now has no playoff aspirations, it injects Davis back into a lineup that, for the past few games, was playing with effort and energy that wasn’t shown before. Young players who are hungry for opportunities were putting everything out there to prove they belonged. And now with Davis back in the lineup, he will probably not be matching that energy. Why would he? The fans will probably boo him, he doesn’t want to be in New Orleans, and there isn’t much to play for. But his presence will take some of that enthusiasm out of the rotation, and for fans who are hungry for something to care about right now, it’s another stomp in a long line of beatdowns.
The Pelicans are in a precarious position, and have been since Rich Paul wound the puppet strings around his fingers. They will need luck to navigate out of it. Hopefully they’ll be in one piece when the helicopter finally arrives.