CHARLOTTE — For his first six seasons, Anthony Davis was a sympathetic and valiant figure. The all-NBA forward made 40-point, 20-rebound nights look routine while toiling for a New Orleans Pelicans franchise that was rarely in the postseason and far from center stage. Davis’s consistency in the face of circumstances beyond his control — coaching changes, questionable roster moves, and key injuries — was admirable, and his euphoria and relief jumped through the television screen once he finally broke through to win a playoff series last year.
But that Davis is gone, replaced by a man who sounds utterly lost and who lacks control, at least temporarily, over the most fundamental aspects of his career.
The NBA all-stars met members of the media at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Saturday morning: LeBron James offered strong support for Colin Kaepernick; Stephen Curry chuckled at the memory of his mother, Sonya, draining an underhanded half-court shot at an event on Friday; and Kevin Durant breezily dismissed questions about leaving the Golden State Warriors as a free agent this summer.
Davis faced the cameras, too, but he stumbled where his colleagues cruised. The Pelicans had just fired GM Dell Demps less than 24 hours earlier, and Davis was bound to be peppered with questions given that his recent trade request had plunged his team into chaos. If the 25-year-old forward and 2020 free agent put in extra time preparing for the gantlet of cameras, it didn’t show.
During a group interview with dozens of reporters and a follow-up interview with NBA TV, Davis’s muddled and contradictory answers made him sound like basketball’s answer to Rudy Giuliani.
The central point of contention was a reported list of four teams that he wanted to be traded to: the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, and New York Knicks. At first, Davis appeared to confirm the existence of the list, saying that its specifics were to be kept “between my agent and the Pelicans.”
Pressed about his desire to play in a larger market, he claimed that his only priority was winning. “Milwaukee was on that list too,” he added. “It doesn’t matter about big market, small market.”
The conversation then took a hard turn into semantics once Davis was asked about his reported lack of interest in the Boston Celtics. “They are on my list,” he said. “I never said they weren’t on my list.” In other words, Davis’s alleged list was growing, or the original report had been incorrect or incomplete, or he was placing some distance between himself and whoever provided the list to the media.
Before observers could sort through those options, Davis added another layer of confusion. “All 29 other teams are on my list,” he told NBA TV. “I don’t have a preferred destination. I just want to win. Whatever team I get traded to, I’ll play for that year [and] make the best of it. When free agency comes, we’ll see what happens. I can’t tell the future. Anthony Davis has never given a destination for where he wants to play.”
List? No list? New list? Whatever.
By issuing his trade request through Klutch Sports agent Rich Paul, Davis has, wittingly or unwittingly, subjected himself to far more scrutiny than he’s accustomed. Now, he somehow found himself telling the world that the only team he’s ever played is the only team he won’t play for in the future.
That was only one of many tone-deaf moments during Saturday’s session. Davis distanced himself from Demps’s dismissal — “I didn’t know anything about that” — and failed to offer much in the way of well wishes for his longtime boss. He also said that the past few weeks, which have swallowed up his franchise and its fan base, “weren’t stressful at all for me.”
And though he reiterated his plan to play the rest of the season for the Pelicans, he referred to his time in New Orleans in the past tense and even imagined drafting his breakup letter for social media. “I have a love for the city and the fans. That was my home,” he said. “Obviously, when that time comes, I’m going to definitely have a heartwarming message for them. Just put it out there on Instagram like everybody else does.”
Davis’s rare combination of power and grace make extraordinary basketball acts look easy, yet his floundering on Saturday to keep his stories straight and his inability to strike the right notes had the exact opposite effect. Suddenly, his life seems much more difficult than it had been when he was merely trying to drag the Pelicans out of the lottery early in his career.
Although Davis might think he’s ready for a new chapter, his haphazard handling of the biggest professional decision suggests he’s not as prepared as he should be. He’s stuck for the next few months playing somewhere he doesn’t want to play, he might get traded this summer to a team that won’t help him compete for a title, and he can’t bring himself to clearly state which organizations represent his preferred long-term fits.
The first item on Davis’s next to-do list should be to take a step back and pull himself together.