The New Orleans Pelicans got through the first step of trading Anthony Davis by passing on multiple offers from the Los Angeles Lakers and one from the New York Knicks, only to wait until the offseason to rekindle talks. Yet the decision to play him in limited capacity for the remaining 27 games of the season could be one that could make or break the franchise for years to come.
The NBA recently threatened to fine the Pelicans $100,000 for each game the Pelicans sit Davis out, which could be as much as $2.5 million if the franchise was to make that choice today with only 25 games left.
The league has put every weapon at hand to stop teams from sitting their star players, but the Pelicans could be paying a price that is simply too steep for the NBA to ever repay.
The NBA has a stranglehold on the Pelicans, making them decide between challenging the league or looking out for the wellness of their future.
New Orleans decided to play Davis in restricted amounts, potentially sitting him in back-to-back sets and reducing his minutes from the 37-per-game average he carried until his nine-game absence due to a finger avulsion and the consequent healthy scratches from being on the trade block.
The league did not fine the Pelicans for the three games Davis sat under the aforementioned excuse, yet nothing has changed — Davis is still on the trade block, he just wasn’t traded by the deadline, as could happen with any star player.
Teams will often protect their trade assets by sitting them before a looming deal goes through, as a way to prevent injuries or wear-and-tear that could cause a team to lower its offer or pull out of negotiations altogether.
So why take a different approach through the last 25 games of the season?
The stakes are the same. New Orleans is looking to move Davis and playing him could potentially cause them to get a smaller return if he suffers an injury of any kind.
Something as slight as logging a mere 60 games in a season due to injury could be enough reason for a franchise to put out the “injury-prone” label on a player and offer less than the full value warranted for his services. So far, Davis has missed 14.
Blockbuster trades are indeed, a constant push-and-pull until a team gives in or (very seldom) is completely satisfied with the price paid at hand.
Resting a player like Davis proves the team is interested in protecting the assets and securing the most possible in exchange. In layman’s terms, even a mild injury to Davis can result in a less-valuable player in return or one less draft pick — something that could prove awfully valuable for a team that is determined to clean house and start anew.
Instead, the Pelicans are now forced to play Davis in limited, yet still significant ways, as the NBA would not forsake the fans’ entertainment for the sake of a deal in the works. The same fans that loudly booed Davis upon being introduced in the starting lineup.
— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) February 9, 2019
Playing Davis not only puts in danger a plan to tank and hoping to land a top-10 pick in this year’s NBA Draft Lottery, but also puts further strain in a front office and a head coach who will have to listen to orders from above.
The Pels are no playoff contenders, but they’re also no laughing stock — not as long as The Brow is on the floor, especially in the midst of his best season as a pro.
A line of 32 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and three blocks was enough to nail a five-point victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, even if this all took place with Davis only playing 25 minutes.
Sitting 13th in the West and 23rd overall in the league, the Pelicans (25-32) have more to worry about than a fan base prepared to boo Davis in every home game, but also of the impending consequences that involve playing him when the fate of the franchise rests in his health.
The NBA in a way has put a stranglehold on the Pelicans that contradicts its own state of thought. Preventing stars from sitting is a way to cater to the fans and give them the full product they expected, but playing Davis will only result in a myriad of boos and signs from angry fans who once hailed him as the loyal giant of The Big Easy.
The risk of Davis potentially injuring himself (he already had missed five games before his finger injury) far outweighs a $2.5 million penalty by the league office, as trying to trade a less-than-fully-healthy Davis could be catastrophic, even potentially risking interested teams pulling out of the sweepstakes altogether if the injury is threatening enough (re: DeMarcus Cousins).
Missing out on Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett or any of the top prospects could be life-changing for a Pelicans team that is likely to strip this roster to its bare bones to build a new core of young players, and that is very much in play.
The Knicks, who currently have the worst record in the league at 10-45, could hold one of the top three selections during this upcoming lottery, one they would reportedly flip for Davis in the offseason.
To miss out on a generational talent like Williamson could rob the fans of the very essence the league has strived to keep alive, maybe even to its own peril.