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The final days of the Anthony Davis era in New Orleans are here

Now that he’s requested a trade, what seemed likely for a long time is now finally official.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Nov. 28 and updated with new information on Jan. 28.

It’s time to come to terms with it, sad and unfair though it may seem: we’re watching the end of the Anthony Davis era in New Orleans. This was true well before Davis formally requested a trade. Now, it’s official.

The Pelicans are nothing special. New Orleans is 22-28, at the tail end of the enormous pack of Western playoff contenders. The Pels are six games out of the No. 8 spot in the West, which really doesn’t matter all that much for our purposes here. The important thing about this season is that New Orleans is worse than they were last year after a fairly active offseason that included letting injured All-Star DeMarcus Cousins leave in free agency due to a contract dispute and adding mid-tier forward Julius Randle.

The Pelicans’ roster got worse in the season where it couldn’t afford to get worse. And now they’re going to lose their star because of it.

Let’s lay out the timeline to get on the same page here.

Davis, one of the five best players in the world, can become a free agent on July 1, 2020. He will be eligible for a designated veteran player extension — aka the supermax contract — on July 1, 2019. This is the largest contract possible for someone with Davis’s experience level. No team but the Pelicans can offer a contract this large.

Davis will reject that contract, according to his agent. That alone signaled that he is willing to take less money to choose his own team in 2020. But in case it wasn’t clear, Rich Paul was sure to signal to the Pelicans that Davis should be traded for assets as soon as possible.

That means that we are watching Davis’s final season in New Orleans — if we haven’t watched his final game already.

There was always a tiny chance this wouldn’t be the endgame. Davis hadn’t showed his hand on his future — leaving slightly ajar the chance to follow in the path of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and John Wall and sign the supermax in 2019.

It just never seemed remotely likely with the Pelicans stuck in the mire and New Orleans without much upside around Davis. Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic, and Randle make up a decent supporting cast when healthy, but the other possibilities out there were always enticing after years of falling short in New Orleans, with the only All-NBA teammate he’s ever had leaving in a money dispute after just 18 months.

Despite the formal request, the Pelicans could convince themselves to keep him around and make one last push before making a trade decision at the February, 2020 deadline. But that risks cannibalizing Davis’s immense trade value by turning a 1-year rental into a 3-month rental. Facing reality clearly is important. Holding on to a Davis who won’t commit is denying the truth that the end has arrived.

The Pelicans should not, however, seek to trade Davis during this season unless some team comes crazy with an irresistible offer. (Before you ask, that team cannot be the Celtics, and this explains why). Considering the offers without the immense pressure of the February trade deadline is still a better route.

The Pelicans also should not start flailing for instant-fix trades around Davis right now. New Orleans doesn’t have much in the way of young assets to move, just draft picks that could be valuable if Davis does leave. Obviously, trading those picks while staring down the barrel of another deep rebuild would be a huge risk for limited pay-off. There aren’t players expected to be available at the deadline who would turn this Pelicans team into a team Davis would be hesitant to leave.

So what can the Pelicans do between now and July 1, 2019?

Good question. Perhaps the best action is no action at all, just preparation for what could be a dark summer and a tough future. Coming to terms with the bitter end now could make the medicine go down smoother when it comes, or it could make sweet salvation that much more delicious.