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Anthony Davis not wanting to go to the Boston Celtics because of ‘loyalty’ is a red herring

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If Anthony Davis wants to get traded to the Lakers, and not the Celtics, then he should just say that. “Loyalty,” or a lack thereof, has nothing to do with it.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Anthony Davis trade rumor saga has metastasized into a broader crisis within the NBA, with Kyrie Irving now apparently reconsidering his previous announcement he would re-sign with the Celtics. Meanwhile, Davis is reportedly not interested in joining the Celtics despite his stated interest in winning titles — no franchise has more banners than Boston, and no team in the AD sweepstakes is better set up to win titles in the near term than the C’s.

Davis’ father got into the press to “explain” his son’s distaste for the Celtics, citing how Boston treated Isaiah Thomas. I.T. famously played through injury and grief for the Celtics in the 2016 playoffs ... months before Boston traded him for Kyrie Irving. Davis’ father cites this lack of loyalty as a reason for his son to be uninterested in the Celtics.

Meanwhile, some have questioned whether Davis’ apparent investment in loyalty ought to extend to the Pelicans, who have spent wondrously on his salary and have tried to pursue good teammates when possible to boost his chances to win.

Here’s the thing: loyalty has nothing to do with any of this. It’s a total non-sequitur.

The Celtics weren’t disloyal to trade Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving, one of the best point guards in the league. They were smart. This is something players and teams agree on. Basketball is a business, and these days, loyalty doesn’t have a whole lot of relevance here. It’s a fringe concept, applicable only to the paying public and legendary players nearing retirement.

Loyalty is something NBA teams sell to fans and free agents, but it’s not a core business practice. It can’t be! The competition is too cutthroat to get sentimental.

Perhaps Davis really is perturbed by the Celtics’ handling of Isaiah. If so, he should find a way to ask LeBron James about Isaiah’s reception in Cleveland, the team to which he was traded by Boston. Thomas wasn’t just treated shabbily by the Celtics front office — the Cavaliers accepted him with closed arms and traded him on to the Lakers, who waved him goodbye in the summer once LeBron decided to join the team.

True, Isaiah didn’t sacrifice his body and soul for the Cavaliers or Lakers like he did for Boston. But the Celtics weren’t the only team to discard him when the cost exceeded the benefit. Others did before Boston, and others did after Boston, too.

This is just what happens in the NBA.

If Davis doesn’t want to be a Celtics because he wants to be a Laker, he should say that. If Davis truly believes Danny Ainge is more ruthless than other GMs and Davis wants to win more than anything else, well ... that’s an argument in favor of the Celtics. That makes me think this is a cover story that sounds good on paper, but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Few reasonable people should criticize Davis for preferring to play in New York or Los Angeles instead of Boston. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the last player this good to request a trade, specifically asked to be traded to NYC or L.A. That was a different era and Kareem had different reasons, but it really happened. There is precedent.

As such, there’s no real need for a cover story. Make the ask, use your leverage (2020 free agency in this case), and let the cards fall where they may. Trying to damage the Celtics’ reputation to get your way isn’t worth it, because it’s not likely to work.

Ainge, after all, is ruthless. If he can work out a trade with the Pelicans and thinks he can convince you to stay, he will. If he works out a trade and realizes he won’t convince you to re-sign, he’ll trade you again. That’s who he is. Your warnings will fall on deaf ears.

Loyalty is for the fans still showing up to Smoothie King Center in New Orleans (though should it be?) and for the Dirk Nowitzkis and Dwyane Wades out there. Anthony Davis is operating in a different realm, following in the footsteps of Kareem and Shaq and LeBron and Kevin Durant. Loyalty doesn’t exist at the altitude. Only leverage.

The sooner we all stop expecting loyalty from teams and stars, the better. In fact, the sooner we instead start talking about the imbalanced loyalty equation between fans and teams, the better.