New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry looked into the cameras in front of him and jokingly wondered why everyone had made their way to the floor of Chicago’s United Center. Both his Pelicans and their Wednesday night opponents, the Chicago Bulls, are 13th in their respective conferences.
Why all the attention?
Gentry, of course, was kidding. He knows why all eyes are on his franchise.
While he walked over to the corner of the Bulls’ home court, a 6-foot-10, wide-shouldered, long-armed, single-browed basketball machine quietly moved in the background.
Anthony Davis is at the center of the NBA’s trade deadline discussion, a star player with the power to alter the future of the NBA depending on where he lands. He’s also not talking and not playing — he’ll sit Wednesday night despite being cleared to play after a recent finger injury.
If he’s dealt by Thursday’s noon PST trade deadline, it’ll be the latest blow for a team that’s said goodbye to Chris Paul and seen unthinkable tragedies occur, including the death of player Bryce Dejean-Jones.
If Davis doesn’t get traded, he’ll be in Pelican purgatory — more valuable to New Orleans if he’s healthy and ready to be traded this offseason than he is playing for the team that’s paying him nearly $24 million this season.
“It’s a [expletive]-up situation,” one Pelicans staffer told the Los Angeles Times.
Davis wants to leave New Orleans. Davis wants to play for the Lakers. In very open, very public — and, in some ways, very messy — trade negotiations, the Lakers have essentially offered everyone on their roster except for LeBron James in an effort to get a deal done.
Their most recent offer — youngsters Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac plus veteran Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and two first-round picks — can’t get much better without becoming unreasonable. It would seemingly satisfy the “everything” asking cost. Even before the two teams were publicly linked after Davis’ trade request, Pelicans officials said “everything” would be a starting point for any offer the Lakers could make to try to land the All-NBA big man who was averaging career highs of 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists a game this season.
There’s a strong belief around the league that the Lakers’ offer will be the same this summer, that the pressure to acquire a superstar to pair with James is too great for the Lakers’ front office to play hardball with any credibility.
That remains the biggest hurdle in all of this. There aren’t a lot of “basketball reasons” to do a deal before Thursday’s deadline.
Better offers could be available come July 1, when Boston would be free to enter the fray and possibly offer second-year forward Jayson Tatum. Whoever wins the NBA draft lottery could try to turn that No. 1 pick, almost certainly Duke forward Zion Williamson, into the centerpiece of a Davis offer.
There’s certainly no desire to do the Lakers a favor now, especially considering the hurt feelings from Davis’ public trade request made by his agent, Rich Paul, who also happens to represent James.
The only real risk New Orleans undertakes by waiting is losing out on offers from teams such as Denver, Milwaukee and Toronto, places Davis might not commit to long term but where his presence would be a major boost for a pair of postseason runs. Those offers almost certainly get worse as soon as the deadline passes and the length of a Davis lease agreement shrinks.
This brings us back to Gentry, standing in the corner of the floor, with cameras focused on his face and microphones aimed at his mouth.
“Obviously,” Gentry said, “it’s on everyone’s mind.”
Asked if there was an eagerness on his part to simply make it past Thursday’s trade deadline, for it to come and go, Gentry laughed.
“That might be the understatement of the year,” he said. “I think everything kind of clears up after that, at least for a while. You can go back to whatever normal is — or whatever our new normal is going to be.”
That’s the trick in all of this — and it might be the best hope the Lakers have to strike a deal before Thursday’s deadline passes. The new normal, if Davis is still on the Pelicans, is going to be just as awkward.
At New Orleans’ final home game before the deadline, a loss Monday to the Indiana Pacers, the upper deck of the Smoothie King Center was 10% to 15% filled — a generous estimate.
Some fans, such as 30-year-old Bruce Brown of Bay St. Louis, Miss., wore Davis’ jersey simply because it was a recent gift.
“I’ve written him off,” Brown said, the Davis jersey soon to be a retro one he can wear to music festivals.
Others respect what Davis has done for the franchise but are ready to move on.
“We should’ve traded him already,” said Floyd Jones, 64, of Gonzales, La., who was also wearing a Davis jersey. “Why wait?”
No one advocated for waiting this out in an effort to try to change Davis’ mind. He’s gone. The fans have accepted it. The organization, Jones said, needed to accept it as well.
If Davis doesn’t get moved and doesn’t play, the Pelicans will be entering virtually uncharted territory when it comes to shutting down a healthy superstar. If Davis doesn’t get moved and plays, they’re risking the future of their franchise if he sustains a major injury.
The one way out, the least awkward decision, might be to move on and trade Davis. Remove the cloud, the attention that will hover whenever Davis is around, whenever he talks. There’s something to be said for allowing your team to start over rather than being weighed down by an anchor, dragged into discomfort for the rest of the season.
That line of thinking, maybe even more than a desire for Ingram, Ball and Kuzma, might be the Lakers’ best shot.