It has been three days since Anthony Davis spent his last day as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Players, commentators, and fans far and wide have all weighed in on the league-wide impact that the trade has made. There have been podcasts, specials, and radio segments dedicated to the ins and outs of the trade: the players, the picks, the agreement date, trade waivers, esports events, sexist fathers, and nearly everything under the sun.
But something else has slowly come about during the response to the trade, almost imperceptive in its subtlety. And for fans of the Pelicans, who have long complained about the way the team is treated by national media, it should be a welcome sight: the Pelicans are cool now!
Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but the Pelicans have been praised for this trade almost unanimously. People are lauding David Griffin for getting a haul in return for Davis, and even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the players (like the particular know-nothing blogger who is currently typing this), the picks and pick swaps show that Griffin knows what he’s doing. (There is another discussion on whether this means Rob Pelinka doesn’t know what he’s doing, but we are not Locked On Lakers so you can find that analysis elsewhere.)
On first glance, this national reaction makes sense. Yes, the Pelicans are being praised. They did a good thing! They got one of the biggest returns for a superstar in recent memory. But the love is significant because of the path the Pelicans have taken to get here and how they have been perceived by national media — since January of this year when Davis demanded a trade, but even before then, dating back to 2012 when Davis was first drafted.
I’m going to be level with you, Pelicans fans, and if you have the power to remove your Mardi-Gras colored glasses, you’ll know it’s true: the team has been poorly run for a long time. Not just with Dell Demps constantly making patchwork decisions, ignoring sunk cost fallacy, and digging holes deeper instead of digging out of them, but — don’t be mad — because the organization felt like it was lower on Tom Benson’s priority list, and the mixing of upper management reflected that. National media picked up on that perception, and ran with it for a very long time.
But a funny thing started happening after Davis’s trade request — changes started happening in earnest. Demps was fired, the most prevalent link between the Saints and Pelicans was cut as Mickey Loomis’s title was stripped, and Gayle Benson began saying and doing the right things. Changes were coming, and Pelicans fans were excited, and waited for the media to take notice too.
Except…they didn’t. Bill Simmons callously referred to Gayle as “The Widow,” and several podcasters and writers speculated about the death of New Orleans basketball, and the reports of David Griffin’s hiring was met with subdued acclaim. People thought it was a good hire, but no one felt it was worthy of loud announcements. This obviously bothered Pelicans fans, but it made sense to me. National media reacts to actions, and front office hires do not move the needle unless it is someone of national celebrity a la Phil Jackson. David Griffin, as respected as he is, doesn’t get Johnny Q Basketballfan sitting up in his seat. And ESPN and the other big networks make content for Johnny and his friends, so the coverage was lacking.
That’s also why the draft lottery was met with gnashing and cursing, with fake stories about Zion Williamson’s preference. New Orleans was still not respected, not seen as a worthy destination. The Pelicans getting the rights to Zion was huge for the city and the fans, but it still was something given to New Orleans. It wasn’t something the Pelicans rightly earned, unless you believe in Griffin’s voodoo rituals.
I knew that for the national media to finally give the little old NOLA team some respect, one of two things would have to happen: either the team needed to put a product on the floor that consistently won, or they’d have to really kill it on the Anthony Davis trade. These are real, tangible actions that require the rest of the world to take notice. Things that not even the most blatant largemarketophile can hand-wave away.
And so here we are, with The Ringer gushing over the return, with articles about the Pelicans being a team of the future, with more than one sports talking head wondering if David Griffin was somewhere laughing like a bond villain after he hung up the phone. The road to true, lasting respect is long and arduous, and the team has much more work to do — starting with deciding what to do with the #4 pick in Thursday’s draft. A team must be constructed, and those wins I talked about must come eventually for the trust in the team to continue.
But right now the Pelicans have new players, new picks, a diligent front office, and committed ownership. Oh, and they have a guy named Zion too. And, finally, they may be getting the national respect so many Pelicans fans crave.