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Laying out the facts regarding the future of Anthony Davis in New Orleans

Should Pelicans fans be worried about mega-agent Rich Paul and his firm, Klutch Sports?

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

“Never depend on a single income.” — Warren Buffet

When I was in my early 20’s, my dad bought me a book called “The Warren Buffet Way.” For those unfamiliar with his work, Buffet is renowned as the greatest investor of our time and is the second or third richest person in the world (depending on the day). I was just getting started in adult life and was trying to understand how to deal with my personal finances — with what little finances I had.

In the book, author Robert G. Hagstrom outlines several of the financial strategies that helped Buffet become one of the worlds richest men. Now, I don’t ascribe too much wisdom to billionaires, there is something perverse about collecting that much money while others starve everyday (call me a commie, I guess). However, I did have one big take away which I’ve used to my benefit through adulthood: Never depend on a single income stream.

With that lesson in mind, I’ve launched all types of “side hustles” to varying degrees of success, but one of the more profitable decisions was a small real estate flipping business I entered in with a high school buddy. At first we worked with the same real estate agent, who had sold us our personal homes. I mean selling a house is selling a house right? Wrong! Our agent understood real estate as a transaction, not as business, which requires a completely different approach. Long story short, we fired her and hired someone much more familiar with real estate investing as well as the areas we sought to make investments. All of a sudden, our little side business went from losing money to earning profits, all from getting the right person into the room — someone who understood how to take something small to the next level.

What does any of this have to do with the New Orleans Pelicans? Well the biggest Pelican, Anthony Davis, seems ready to take his own business/brand to the next level, and to do that, he’s following in my footsteps: changing an important cog in the process.

Setting The Groundwork

Recently, it was reported by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne that Anthony Davis was in the midst of parting ways with his long time agent Thad Foucher. It was also reported that Rich Paul of Klutch Sports would become the Brow’s new representation. Per NBAPA rules, players are required to file paperwork with the NBAPA and wait 15 days before naming a new agent. That period has now expired and Anthony Davis is officially a part of Klutch Sports, but Davis’ new agent was never really in doubt the moment Windhorst and Shelburne first reported the news. Both Windhorst and Shelburne are fine reporters, but it’s well known among NBA circles that they are key media allies for LeBron James and his Klutch Sports team. It’s likely that the deal was all but done when the story first leaked.

So here we are, Anthony Davis hired LeBron James’ agent to also represent he and his famous brand. As soon as the news was announced, thirsty fan bases around the league began to speculate about what this meant for The Brow’s future. Now I’ve got to admit, at first glance it looked bad if your are a Pelicans fan. Davis and his team have always been more conservative and low key when compared to the perma-drama that other NBA superstars in this era seem to generate.

Rich Paul and LeBron James, on the other hand, have largely been responsible for the current player empowerment movement that has seen top players demand accountability from franchises with near hostage-level ruthlessness. Some could argue that this strategy actually hurt LeBron from a winning standpoint as it forced the Cavs into short-sighted moves that ultimately led to the teams undoing. It even pushed out LeBron’s co-start Kyrie Irving as the star point guard did not want to remain in a situation where another player was essentially deciding his future.

Make no mistake, this is a complete sea change for Anthony Davis. One that should strike the fear of King Cake Baby in all Pelicans fans hearts. Alas, it’s not time to panic. There is only one reason for those in the entertainment field to get a new agent: You believe that new representation can provide something your current agent cannot.

What Does Davis Want

Davis signing with Rich Paul doesn’t mean New Orleans superstar player is heading out of town, but don’t write it off entirely either. Remember about 500 words ago when I switched real estate agents because I realized the person I was working with had no experience doing what I was asking them to do? Well, it’s likely Davis had a similar thought process.

When hiring anyone, you want to look at their proven track record. What are their areas of expertise and how much experience do they possess? Have they achieved what I required in the past and to what level of success? How likely is it they can repeat that success in my situation?

New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers - Game One Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

So then what is it that Davis seeks which his old representation could not or did not provide? Think about it, put yourself in AD’s size-17 shoes for a minute (insert sit-com dream sequence cut away).

  • You are Anthony Davis, you’ve put an incredible amount of work into your game — one doesn’t become great without a real drive to be the best. Despite all well-intentioned efforts, you are almost always forgotten when people discuss the elite in the league and your team seems to be the perpetual “oh I forgot about them” team.
  • You have a high profile, possess great character, but there’s still too many casual sports fans who’s familiarity with you is based only on SportsCenter highlights.
  • You’ve tried for more endorsements lately and you recently inked a nice deal with Mobil One...Yay! But of course nobody grows up dreaming of being a pitch man for a motor oil company. No, you grew up in Chicago, career birthplace of sports sponsorship G.O.A.T Michael Jefferey Jordan. You dreamed of being “Like Mike” in one of those sweet “Just Do It” joints.

It Must Be The Shoes

Almost exactly one year ago, Anthony Davis agreed to a multi-year shoe deal that extended his sponsorship relationship with Nike. While details of the deal were not released, it safe to assume that Davis’ deal is valued at far less than a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. To most people that doesn’t seem like a big problem since both players have accomplished more than Davis from a team perspective. They’ve also taken home the highest individual award in basketball, the League MVP.

The issue is that Anthony Davis now views himself in the same vein — as he should. In a recent interview, Davis made it perfectly clear where he feels he stands in the NBA pecking order, “In my eyes I’m the best player in the game, and I really feel that way and nobody can tell me differently.”

If you view yourself as the best player in the game, then a Mobile One deal is not exactly what you would view as a marketing success story. After all, Anthony Davis, who is almost universally recognized as a top 3-5 talent in the league, doesn’t even have a signature shoe. Davis likely could’ve had his own shoe already if he had chosen to sign with another company who would have loved to have him. This signals that Davis wants to operate at the highest level of the endorsement game instead of taking a signature shoe deal with a less glamorous brand.

Nike is famously selective with who they give a signature shoe to. Since releasing their first signature shoe in 1985 (Nike Air Jordan 1), Nike has issued only 21 players signature shoes. Only four active players have a prestigious signature Nike shoe (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Paul George). What do all of those players have in common? They have all at least been to a Conference Final. Paul George is the least accomplished of the bunch and he has two East Conference Finals appearances, and to be honest Nike probably thought he would’ve accumulated more by now.

New Orleans Pelicans v Golden State Warriors - Game Two Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Resumes matter to shoe companies. Due to the length of the NBA season and their competition against college and professional football, TV ratings tend to rise toward the end of the season. With most of the league in the playoff push, casual fans who aren’t interested in the regular season minutia begin to tune in as post-season excitement builds. NBAtv ratings and general media attention peak during the conference and NBA Finals. If your goal is to use this platform to promote your shoe company, it helps to endorse players who are actually being talked about consistently and have hopes of playing deep into playoffs.

Ultimately, no one other than The Brow knows what his plans are. However, the biggest reason to pass on a massive super max contract that only the Pelicans can offer is if you could make up the loss with tens of millions of endorsement dollars on the table — you become Tracy McGrady instead of Kobe Bryant.

Given this dynamic, the Pelicans organization has to either make a conference finals or get within a hairs whisker of great accomplishments soon if they hope to keep Davis around for the long-term. Davis has to believe that winning big in New Orleans is actually possible. If it is, then it’s likely he can have his cake and eat it, too. Davis could secure a signature shoe, raising his profile to another level, and ink what might be the largest contract in NBA history at the time of signing. If the Pelicans fail to make waves though, Davis would have no choice — from a business perspective — than to seek greener pastures where he can realize his limitless potential.

It’s Not Just The Shoes

So back to our earlier question, that is, what can Rich Paul do for A.D. that previous representation couldn’t offer? Well, it’s not just about the shoes. If Davis is trying to re-brand himself the “best player in the world” then that title should come equipped with the natural accoutrements of that title.

**The only agent that can claim to have worked with the best player in the world recently is Rich Paul.

Not only has Paul helped LeBron James become the ultimate power player in sports, but his list of endorsements and the structure of those deals in nearly unprecedented. Paul has been instrumental in negotiating record deals with A-List brands like Nike, Beats By Dre, McDonalds, Verizon, Intel, Samsung, Dunkin Donuts, and etc — Nope, not just Mobile One.

Additionally, the creative nature of some of LeBron’s deals stand to make him much richer than any product pusher having negotiated ownership stakes in Beats and the fast rising Blaze Pizza chain.

(One more time, no mention of Mobile One.)

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned Paul’s connections in Hollywood that will only grow stronger with LeBron James out in Los Angeles. By the way, Paul’s business partner, Maverick Carter, maintains an office on Warner Brothers studio lot. What other agent can say that?

Want to do movies?

“I can open doors.”

Want a signature shoe?

“I negotiated the biggest shoe deal ever...twice.”

A change in representation was a no-brainer for Anthony Davis. Regardless of where you want him to lace up his sneakers, there is no other top agent that can take Davis anywhere he desires like Rich Paul can.

Power Player

We’ve talked about what Paul can offer Davis on the endorsement side, but what about on the court? This is where Paul truly excels.

To truly be considered the best player in world, you have to be able to make power plays. That is, you must be able to make the league bend to your will. The entire league waits for LeBron to make his decision. That is what i’m calling the Rich Paul Doctrine. Simply put, this Doctrine assumes that the best player should exercise maximum leverage at all times, in all situations, without exception. For many Pelicans fans, this is terrifying. In my opinion, this could actually end up being a very good thing for New Orleans, and thankfully, I’m not alone.

After Anthony Davis hired Rich Paul, speculation ran rampant that a trade request was imminent and that A.D. would be the mystery player joining LeBron James and the Lakers as soon as the All-Star break. I’m not sure I agree with this line of thinking, Bill Simmons. Don’t get me wrong, I totally get why folks would think Paul will usher A.D. to the City of Angels to join his biggest client. However, I don’t think you should assume that Paul can just treat his other clients as pawns on LeBron’s chess board. If Davis believes Paul is steering his career based on the whims of LeBron James, he would likely leave Paul just as quickly as he signed with him.

The ultimate decider of Anthony Davis’ future is Anthony Davis. If Davis wants to stay in New Orleans, Rich Paul would be a powerful ally for New Orleans GM Dell Demps. Agents hold more power over potential player trades than many fans are aware of. Unlike team executives, player agents are able to talk to players on opposing teams to gauge interest in potential deals. A powerful agent like Paul can literally get on the phone with anyone in the NBA world. If Davis hopes to lure another star to play with him in NOLA, Paul could help make that happen.

Just Win Baby

So there you have it. Hopefully, I talked you off the ledge and tried to introduce some logic to hungry Laker and Celtic fans. While Davis’ change in representation does not automatically signal his eventual departure from New Orleans, it does tell us that he’s no longer satisfied with the status quo. Fortunately, the path to the most money for Davis still runs through a winning Pelicans organization. If he can win in New Orleans, other destinations become much less appealing as he would have to pass up a huge contract and leave his own team to join someone else’s.

We also can not forget the fact that Anthony Davis is not LeBron James. Maybe he doesn’t want to play for multiple franchises. Perhaps he wants to finish what he started in NOLA, after all, raising an afterthought of a franchise to the hallowed ranks of NBA champions would be an all-time great accomplishment. Far greater than adding another championship banner in either Boston or Los Angeles. Just ask Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan or another star who saw the process through.

Obama Welcomes NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks To White House Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Anthony Davis has never been like other superstars. Davis is the lowest maintenance superstar since Tim Duncan, who once flirted with the idea of leaving his small market team (albeit for another one in the Magic). But ultimately, he chose the familiarity and trust he had with the Spurs organization. The Pelicans are long way from being what the Spurs are as an institution. Yet, the same things that made Duncan stay is what Pels fans have to hope Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry are able to build with Davis.

It is entirely possible that we will look back at Davis’ agency choice as the beginning of the end of The Brow in New Orleans. That is fully within the realm of possibility. Yet it is not a fait accompli. To give themselves a legitimate chance, all the Pelicans have to do is win and make Davis feel that the organization is willing and able to do what it takes to win a title. If they do, then it makes the decision much easier for Davis. However, if they do not, it’s likely he’ll seek a more winning situation.

Yes, a lot has to go right, but the team is currently moving in a positive direction. A lot can happen over the course of just one season. Remember the glee for most of January thinking #DoItBig had finally figured things out, to the low of losing DeMarcus Cousins, to the elation of riding a tidal wave into the playoffs? What if this New Orleans team makes another jump similar to what we saw last year? Below the Warriors, in my opinion, the Western Conference is wide open this season, so with health, player progression, and some good playoff match-ups it’s not inconceivable that the Pelicans find themselves knocking on the door of conference finals. If Davis is looking down at everyone but the Warriors at seasons end, there would be no basketball reason to leave...

Ultimately, no matter what the organization does, what Rich Paul says, the choice will come down to what Davis wants. If he wants to stay and finish out the journey in NOLA, he will, but if he leaves, it won’t be because his new agent manipulated him into the waiting arms of LeBron James. No, it will be because Davis believes he’s the best in the world, and to be the best, you have to beat the best — or at least use their cliches.

Embrace the challenge, New Orleans. We were destined to travel this road, and there’s a decent chance it’ll all work out beautifully!