Frustrating situation in New Orleans taking toll on Anthony Davis
Kevin Durant left.
That’s all you need to remember the next time Anthony Davis puts up one of those mind-blowing stat lines that makes your jaw drop and your eyes roll back in your head.
Fact is, Davis could roll out 50 points, 16 rebounds, 7 steals and five assists as he did on opening night again and again and again and it might not keep him in New Orleans.
Not as long as the Pelicans can’t get out of their own way. It’s still quite early in the season, but it’s already 0-5 in the Big Queasy and looking familiarly hopeless, for both the 2016-17 season and the long-term prospects of hanging onto their franchise foundation.
Sure, the All-Star power forward is locked up in a five-year, $127 million contract through 2020 (player option for the last season), but the clock is ticking.
In an age when the Oklahoma City Thunder can win more than 60 percent of their games over a seven-year stretch and still see their superstar walk out the door, the Pelicans aren’t even in the position of making a compelling argument to stay. Not with a plan that annually makes no more progress than running on a treadmill.
The Thunder were able to put Russell Westbrook and James Harden around Durant to construct a lineup that would make it to the 2012 NBA Finals before things slowly and inexorably started to come undone. Harden wanted more money and, more important, his own team on which to be the headliner. Injuries kept stopping OKC from reaching the goal of a championship.
But at least the Thunder were always steadily climbing or occupying a high rung on the ladder. Just last season the Thunder were in the Western Conference finals. In four seasons, Davis and the Pelicans have been to the playoffs just once, and what came of that was head coach Monty Williams getting fired.
While there is always a bit of luck involved in getting the right draft picks to fall into place, the truth is the Pelicans under general manager Dell Demps have simply fallen down in putting the right pieces around Davis over and over.
There has been no sense of patience or coherence in the New Orleans front office. Instead of keeping Nerlens Noel with the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft to play on a front line with Davis, Demps shipped him off to Philadelphia for one-time All-Star guard Jrue Holiday, who has been plagued by injuries.
The Pelicans kept veteran wing man, solid defender and all-around pro Trevor Ariza for just two seasons before shipping him out. They gave up on Al-Farouq Aminu before he could blossom. They kept going to the well with Tyreke Evans. They made the foolish and costly decision to match a free agent offer sheet from Phoenix for the dissatisfied Eric Gordon and watched him frequently sit injured on the bench until he played out the contract and finally left. It’s hard to blame the Pelicans for the untimely injuries to Ryan Anderson, but neither did they take full advantage of his ability as a shooter to advance their cause. The trade for center Omer Asik and subsequent decision to re-sign him to a new contract was a costly mistake times two.
So now coach Alvin Gentry is already in deep water not even two weeks into his second season in charge and there would seem to be no place to swim.
Let’s face it. The supporting cast of Asik, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca and rookie Buddy Hield — the players under contract through 2019 — hardly looks like a group that is going to put the Pelicans into the thick of the playoff race in the perennially tough Western Conference, let alone make them contenders.
That is, of course, what it’s going to take in the age of Rings Are Everything, to make New Orleans appetizing beyond barbecued shrimp and a po’ boy sandwich to Davis.
He’s averaging 31.6 points, 12 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.8 steals and 2.2 assists per game through the 0-5 face-plant that comes on the heels of 11 losses in the first 12 games a year ago and threatens to render another season cooked before the turkey on Thanksgiving. And the frustration is setting in.
“We had too many mental breakdowns,” Davis said after Tuesday night’s loss to Milwaukee. “We’re not talking out there and so, therefore, we have mental breakdowns that gave them easy layups at the basket and open shots.
“It’s definitely frustrating. We can’t get a win, it’s frustrating. Whatever we need to do, we need to do it fast.”
Chris Paul was in a similar situation with then-New Orleans Hornets, stuck in what he saw as a rut. He forced his way out of town with one full year and the player option season left on his contract. In Davis’ case, that would be the summer of 2019, just two drafts and two free agent summers to patch the many holes in the leaky ship.
Not so far away, is it?
At that point, the player with the monster numbers and all-around game would be 26, roughly halfway through a career, a time when players want more.
If things don’t change dramatically and fast, what’s Anthony Davis to think?
Kevin Durant left.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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