The best player in the history of the New Orleans Pelicans (or Hornets) has requested a trade. Anthony Davis is leaving, and he’s not coming back.
The time for wondering what the Pels can do to keep him happy is long gone. But when the heck did this all go south in the first place? That’s a question that needs answers.
Davis’ change of heart didn’t happen overnight. It was the culmination of several poor choices by New Orleans management, decisions that hamstrung the franchise into keeping a poor roster together out of fear of it becoming worse. Their only hope now is to deal Davis for pieces that could jumpstart their rebuild, much like they were forced to trade Chris Paul to jumpstart the now-failed Davis era.
Here’s how New Orleans got here.
1. June 28, 2012 — Pelicans select Anthony Davis No. 1 overall
Nothing to see here, just the best decision New Orleans has ever made — one that fell right into their lap with the lottery ping pong balls.
New Orleans also drafted Austin Rivers at pick No. 10. Rivers never worked out in New Orleans and was traded in 2015 for Quincy Pondexter. Rivers also represents only of only two Pelicans first-round picks used in the Davis era. The other was Buddy Hield in 2016, who was later traded for DeMarcus Cousins.
2. November 16, 2012 — Pelicans sign GM Dell Demps to contract extension
Demps hadn’t really done much to earn a long-term deal. As SB Nation’s Tom Ziller writes, most of this mess is his fault to begin with.
3. Summer of 2012 — Two bad contracts
The Pelicans committed four years, $34 million to Ryan Anderson and four years, $52 million to Eric Gordon — in the same summer. Gordon never played more than 64 games throughout the life of his four-year deal. Anderson played 81 games his first year but just 22 the second.
The best ability is availability, and the Pelicans committed big money (at the time) to players who couldn’t stay healthy. It set the scene for future failure.
4. 2013-2015: Trying to compete too soon
On the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Pelicans sent Nerlens Noel to Philadelphia for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. This proved to be their one good move in the Davis era.
But later that same summer, they signed Tyreke Evans to a four-year, $44 million contract. With Eric Gordon on the roster, this addition gave the Pelicans three guards who needed the ball in their hands.
In 2014, the Pelicans wanted to win now, so they traded with Houston for Omer Asik. The deal cost New Orleans their 2015 first-round pick, one the Rockets used to take Sam Dekker.
Drafting well and developing talent is how you build a sustainable winner around a superstar. The Pelicans did not do this.
5. May 12, 2015 — Pelicans fire Monty Williams, hire Alvin Gentry
New Orleans struggled in its first three seasons after drafting Davis. They struggled so much, management gave head coach Monty Williams an ultimatum: make the playoffs or lose your job.
Ownership gave GM Dell Demps and Monty Williams preseason mandate to make playoffs to keep jobs, w/ no allowance for injuries. They made it.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 16, 2015
He did, on the final day of the 2014-15 season. Though they were swept by Golden State in the first round, it was the culmination of the team’s record improving every season.
New Orleans management fired him anyway. That wasn’t the way to treat the coach your star player spoke so highly about:
New Orleans replaced Williams with Gentry in the summer. Gentry’s record in New Orleans leading up to Davis’ trade request is 134-162.
6. July 9, 2015 — The Omer Asik extension
Five years, $58 million. If only the Pelicans had the foresight to see Asik’s position would be obsolete in one year.
New Orleans committed big money to a bruising center. Unfortunately, he was such a bruiser he got hurt and couldn’t stay on the floor. Asik never averaged more than 18 min per game in the two seasons after signing that contract.
The Pelicans eventually trade Asik to Chicago in a deal for Nikola Mirotic, but it cost them their 2018 first-rounder. The Bulls used that pick to select Chandler Hutchinson.
7. July 2016 — The Solomon Hill contract
The salary cap exploded from $69 million to $90 million. No one knew what to do with themselves.
New Orleans’ solution? Sign Solomon Hill to a four-year, $51.9 million contract despite averages of four points and three rebounds per game in Indiana. They also signed E’Twaun Moore to a four-year, $34 million deal, which worked out OK, and Alexis Ajinca to a four-year, $20 million deal, which didn’t.
Hill averaged seven points per game on modest a three-point shooting percentage the following year, but tore his hamstring and missed most of the 2017-18 season. He is averaging 4 points on 30 percent shooting from deep this year.
8. April, 2016: ESPN story about team’s training staff comes out
Justin Verrier’s story confirmed what many suspected: the Pelicans’ training and medical staff was well below part for several years due to them sharing resources with the NFL’s Saints. Many of New Orleans’ issues during the Davis era came from injuries to key players — including Davis, who said in 2016 that he played through a torn labrum in his shoulder for three years. In 2015-16 alone, the Pelicans lost a league-worst 340 games to injury and illness.
New Orleans revamped its training staff by investing in a cyrotherapy chamber and stealing San Antonio’s strength coach, but by then it was too late to undo the earlier seasons wasted.
9. July 6, 2017 — Jrue Holiday’s extension
New Orleans re-signed Holiday to a five-year, $131 million contract. Holiday wasn’t an obvious max player, but the Pelicans were backed into a corner due to their clogged salary cap situation. They had to offer him the max to keep him, because they had no way to sign anyone else to replace him.
This deal pays Holiday just about $25 million a year. That’s a good deal in today’s cap climate, but it prevented the Pelicans from doing anything else on the open market.
10. July 6, 2018 — DeMarcus Cousins signs with Warriors
New Orleans gave up Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and the No. 10 pick at the 2017 trade deadline to land Cousins, then lost him 16 months later.
No one will ever know what the Pelicans actually offered Cousins in free agency. Boogie says he had no offers, which sent him calling Warriors GM Bob Myers. Other reports suggest the Pelicans offered two years, $40 million.
Either way, the offer wasn’t enough. They let Cousins walk for nothing, an awful outcome when you consider Hield’s success in Sacramento and the fact that the draft pick could have been Donovan Mitchell. Lord, what a combo Mitchell and Davis would have been.
The issue here, though, isn’t the initial trade — it’s New Orleans’ lack of foresight not to offer Cousins a bigger contract after his torn Achilles. Yes, an Achilles tear is one of the worst injuries a player can suffer, unless that player doesn’t rely on superior athleticism to be effective.
The numbers showed Davis and Cousins weren’t the best when they shared the floor together, but the two guys clearly enjoyed being on the same team. If you’re trying to keep Anthony Davis, you keep the players he likes to play with.
“I think about our pairing all the time,” Cousins told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “Me and AD talk about it. It’s fucked up. It could’ve been something great, something special, but other people had different things in mind. That’s out of our control, and you never know what’ll happen later on down the line.”
The Pelicans tried to do more. Shortly after Cousins’ injury, they traded for NIkola Mirotic, who was a breath of fresh air to space the floor out for Anthony Davis. The Davis-Mirotic-Holiday trio swept the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs last season, but lost in five games to the Warriors in the second round.
New Orleans let Cousins and Rajon Rondo walk, replacing them with Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. It wasn’t enough, as injuries continued to batter the Pelicans and led to a 22-28 start.
11. Jan. 28, 2019 — Anthony Davis rejects impending supermax extension, formally requests trade
The Pelicans now have nothing to show for the Cousins trade, and little to show for the Davis era. Hopefully for their sake, they get the best possible return for Davis this time around.