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Have the New Orleans Pelicans reached the point of no return regarding Anthony Davis’ future?

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Or does the front office still have time?

New Orleans Pelicans v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sports talk shows can force-feed the idea of an Anthony Davis trade in every lead spot available, but it’s important to remember you won’t see one happen this season.

LeBron James stated last Tuesday in Brooklyn that potentially adding Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers would be “amazing” and “absolutely incredible.” The Brow is under contract for another year and a half, and can only be acquired in a trade, so it’s easy to see how a national discussion sparked quickly around the New Orleans phenom’s future.

“I really don’t care,” Davis told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “Obviously, it’s cool to hear a high-caliber player say they want to play with me. But my job is to turn this team around. If we’re [losing], that means I’m not doing my job.”

Outrage from small markets across the NBA flocked to New Orleans’ defense in belief that the comments James made could be deemed tampering. Disgruntled by the league’s refusal to enforce such NBA bylaws, one Eastern Conference executive even told ESPN, “it’s open season on small markets and our players.”

Without evidence of team coordination, the NBA does not consider it tampering when a player comments on his interest in playing alongside another player. James simply answered a question presented by a reporter tasked to cover the Lakers. Not many people would pass on the opportunity to add a 25-year-old superstar who may still be ascending anyway.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s not rocket science,” James said with laugh after rattling off a long list of players he would enjoy teaming up with. “These are great players. Absolutely, I would love to play with a lot of great players. That’s just who I am. People get caught up in bunches sometimes when they wish they could control what you say, and they can’t control me at all. I play by the rules.”

It wasn’t tampering — it was calculated. Players can’t tamper, and James understands that better than anybody. No one has been courted more in recent history, and his hometown Cavaliers weren’t attempting to run with these types of arguments then. James knows how this game works. He’s seen what players can get away with through his multiple free agency experiences, and it is clear he intends to work the rules to his advantage. Klutch Sports and agent Rich Paul representing the pair of James and Davis doesn’t hurt their ability to do so either.

Frankly, the league endorses this kind of drama among top talent. Since Adam Silver took over as commissioner, it’s been all about super teams. The NBA is a billion-dollar business that thrives on year-round controversy just as much as it relies on actual games. In Davis’ situation, rumors have been amplified by the face of the NBA, as well as its most popular brand, watching the other options start to dwindle.

The Clippers have a target locked on Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, who both have seemed to express concern at the idea of co-staring beside James, and the Lakers are left searching for dramatic improvements to piece around their almost 34-year-old veteran before his title window closes. Meanwhile, officials in New Orleans are hopeful they can keep Davis right where he is — at least for now.

Pelicans general manager Dell Demps has no incentive to trade the best player in franchise history before trying to make a run this year, let alone giving away the chance to put a five-year, $239.5 million super max offer in front of him this summer. Davis has shown little interest in expediting a trade process prior to the Feb. 7 trade deadline, and even if he did, the Pelicans would most likely choose to hold still.

“We’re not trading him,” head coach Alvin Gentry said adamantly. “I can say that to the world. We’re not going to trade him, no matter what. That’s not an option. It doesn’t matter what anyone says or does; we’re not trading Anthony Davis.”

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If Davis declines the monumental extension, New Orleans will have to take trade calls to avoid losing him for nothing. Boston can’t make a proposal for Davis as a result of league rules preventing a team from having two players acquired on a Designated Rookie contract via a trade. Since that rule currently applies to Celtics guard Kyrie Irving until his deal expires this July, New Orleans won’t mind putting off a bidding war until that point.

Unless Davis and Paul make it known Los Angeles is the only desired destination past the 2020 free agency mark, the Lakers will not have the best offer on the market. Most combinations of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and draft picks would be seen as a nice return for a Pelicans rebuild, but some teams will be willing to roll the dice with more if Davis remains open to a home outside of Staples Center.

Boston has Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, four 2019 first-round picks (Kings, Grizzlies, Clippers and their own) and one of the more coveted young assets in Jayson Tatum all to choose from. Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris and Al Horford could find themselves involved as well. Rozier and Morris would be contingent on agreeing to a sign-and-trade, while Horford becomes a possibility should he pick up his player option. New Orleans may just as easily be intrigued by a San Antonio/Indiana approach, in search of an all-star, similar to DeMar DeRozan or Victor Oladipo, that can immediately help keep the franchise on its feet.

Despite holding the second-worst record in the Western Conference at 15-19, the Pelicans are just 4.5 games back from a top-four seed and completely uninterested in waving the white flag this early. Davis reportedly doesn’t view the extra $87.3 million New Orleans could have to offer in the end as a factor, but we knew a financial advantage alone would never be enough — especially since the Pelicans do not have as high of a monetary leverage as perceived, depending on how Davis plays his cards. A team with a winning culture must be capable of ensuring him, regardless of its market size, it is functional and aggressive in planning toward the future to land his commitment.

“I’d take legacy over money,” Davis revealed to Yahoo Sports after Friday’s loss to the Lakers. “I want to have a legacy. All my people that look up to me, the younger kids, I want them to know about AD’s legacy. Championships, the things I do in the community, being a good teammate, playing hard. All that stuff matters the most to me.”

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Davis still entertains the prospect of realizing that fantasy in New Orleans and creating a legacy on his own team, to go against the grain, instead joining other superstars in larger scenes. Sure, this idea seems like a long shot. Pre-agency has been a reality in the NBA for some time, and most feel if Davis wants to force his way to L.A. — with Paul at his side — there’s nothing that can truly stop him. Crazier things have happened, though. Before deciding to stay in Oklahoma City, Paul George was set on Los Angeles. Leonard was too, but currently resides in Toronto with the NBA’s best record.

It does look as though Davis has actually started to forge his path to a new team, but just 34 games into the schedule, New Orleans’ front office still has time to recover and make its final move. Dell Demps is always willing to deal assets including a first-round pick if he feels he can improve the roster. The 2019 first rounder is one of his most valuable trade pieces – we’re all just waiting on when it moves, who goes with it and most importantly if what comes back in return is enough to help the Pelicans make a legitimate case to Davis when the dust settles.

Or, do you think New Orleans is past the point of no return and needs to start focusing on a future without it’s second-ever superstar in franchise history?

Poll

How should the New Orleans Pelicans proceed?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Do everything possible to convince Anthony Davis to stay
    (229 votes)
  • 54%
    Start planning in earnest for a future that does not include Anthony Davis
    (278 votes)
507 votes total Vote Now