Listen closely enough and you can hear it ticking even now. Tick tick tick. Anthony Davis is still under contract through at least the end of the 2020 season, thanks to a still massive five year (player option in the fifth season), $127.1 million contract signed nearly a year ago. The New Orleans Pelicans do not have that much time, as odd as it all sounds. Much of the time they did have is already wasted.
Kevin Durant decided, on July 4th of all days, that he was leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors in the Bay Area. Durant had played nine seasons for the franchise; one in Seattle and eight more in Oklahoma City after owner Clay Bennett abandoned the Emerald City. Nine years with one franchise. The Thunder won at least 60% of their games in six out of the last seven years. Reached the Western Conference Finals four times in the last six years.
And yet, Durant is leaving.
This is the natural product of the RINGZZZ culture. When shouting heads on television or Twitter weigh everything by championships or bust Durant has every reason to pursue the allure of the MegaDeath lineup. Not to mention the benefits to his career where his load will be lighter surrounded by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
How, then, will the Pelicans possibly retain Anthony Davis? The last superstar to force his way out, Chris Paul, was traded with one year AND his player option remaining. Summer of 2019 is the deadline. Just two free agency periods and two drafts remain between now and then. Three total seasons. The core players locked up through 2019 are Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, E'Twaun Moore, Buddy Hield, and Alexis Ajinca.
Have you heard about the small ball revolution? Two of those names are plodding centers. One is a rookie. The others bit role players recently signed to exaggerated contracts thanks to an exploding salary cap. Pardon me while I wash my mouth out.
Cap space next summer is possible, and New Orleans must make difficult decisions on both Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Will either be worth retaining into their early 30's? Can Demps gain some assets for Holiday or Evans between now and the trade deadline or will both walk with nothing in return as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson did days ago?
Even armed with a boatload of available salary it is hard to believe a core of Davis, Hill, Asik, Moore, Ajinca, Hield, and draft pick X is drawing a top flight free agent. Who, exactly, was the last game changing free agent to choose the Pelicans?
All of recent basketball history tells us Anthony Davis will leave New Orleans. He may or may not demand a trade. He could leave in free agency four years from now or in a trade prior to that date to secure some value for the franchise. Blame will be cast.
Do not blame Anthony Davis.
Anthony Davis arrived in New Orleans by chance, the lucky bounce of four ping pong balls. 4-9-6-7. The collective bargaining agreement, designed by the owners to make leaving after a rookie contract prohibitively costly, ensured Davis would sign the maximum extension offered last July. For the first time in his career, with nearly half of it spent, Anthony Davis will actually have a choice where he performs his trade. It is unlikely that choice will be to remain.
Not when his legacy is determined by the number of championships he has won. Davis has already endured an incompetent franchise that has failed to surround him with the talent necessary to compete at the highest level. The last time Anthony Davis had a choice where he played basketball he went to John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. They went 38-2 and won the National Championship (in the Superdome) with relative ease.
Enjoy Anthony Davis now, as he wears the colors we root for together. But do not blame Davis when it is time to seize his destiny. To exert control over his legacy. By what right would the city of New Orleans or fans demand more? 4-9-6-7? The lucky bounce of four ping pong ball should tie Davis to this franchise regardless of its performance? No.
If Davis is to stay in New Orleans beyond this contract it is the responsibility of this franchise, this front office, to earn his commitment. And should Anthony Davis leave, the blame will fall squarely on their shoulders.