To say the New Orleans Pelicans have fallen short of expectations since reaching the playoffs during the 2014-15 would be an understatement. If you’re looking to cast blame, you could easily point to their injury woes, head coaching change or roster upheavals.
The frustration of losing, especially in a smaller market, puts the microscope squarely on the Pelicans’ franchise player: Anthony Davis. The franchise has been here once before, during the Chris Paul era, and it ultimately led to a top-10 player forcing his way to Los Angeles.
So it’s perfectly natural, amidst all of the losses, that all eyes (and ears) are evaluating how Davis truly feels about his long-term future with the organization.
Earlier this week, Davis reiterated to The Vertical that he’s in it for the long haul and fully committed to seeing things through in New Orleans.
“My desire to win here is the same,” Davis told The Vertical. “I go out there and play. I don’t care what the record is. I just go out there and play. I have to lead this team and make sure my guys are always happy and high energy. I don’t care what people say about our team. They’re not in our locker room seeing us, not part of our group. That’s all white noise.
“I just try to control what I can: go out there and compete.”
Davis doubled down when asked if his commitment to the Pelicans has wavered as the losses continue to mount.
“No, no, never,” Davis said, according to the report.
These quotes, on the surface, should at the very least help Pelicans fans sleep a bit better at night, right? Well, if recent history involving some of the game’s biggest stars in a similar situation is any indication, the answer is a resounding no. More on this later.
Davis isn’t purposely being deceitful in his assessment of the current situation in New Orleans. In fact, these quotes are probably at the purest form with free agency for the big man nowhere in sight.
Here’s the deal…
Davis is in the first season of a five-year, $145 million contract extension signed in July 2015. The earliest he could become a free agent is the summer of 2020 by exercising a player option for the 2020-21 campaign. If there’s ever a time when you’d expect Davis to be locked in and fully invested in the franchise, it’s now. Period. Davis has no leverage in trade talks and publicly forcing one would damage his brand and he would instantly be criticized for bailing on a franchise prematurely.
Davis remaining committed to the process in New Orleans isn’t shocking given his lack of options and leverage. The important time for Davis to reiterate these feelings will be in 2018 or 2019 when his leverage grows with free agency looming.
We thought it would be a fun exercise to track down some early quotes from some of the league’s elite players that were once in Davis’ shoes… and then ultimately bolted in free agency. You will notice a similar theme play out.
LeBron James, free agency of 2010 (left Cleveland for Miami)
James was arguably the most sought after free agent in league history back in 2010 and his recruitment process, if we’re being honest, started years before the doors opened on July 1, 2010. Below are some of his quotes leading up to free agency and his commitment to staying the course in Cleveland.
June 2008 – Prior to Olympics (New York Daily News): “On draft day, I’m watching some of the younger guys coming into the league and they’re saying, ‘You know, teams are making trades (to sign) LeBron James in 2010.’ I just kind of laugh at that. I’m excited to be in Cleveland, and right now, I’m excited to be part of this Olympic team. It’s kind of funny to me.”
James signed a three-year extension worth $43 million in 2006 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The deal included a player option for the 2010-11 campaign, which he ultimately exercised. Most expected him to opt out of the final year to test free agency, but the Cavaliers offered another contract extension during the 2008-09 campaign. No one expected James to truly sign the extension as it wasn’t a benefit for him financially to do so, but his public quotes indicate the deal could be in play at season’s end.
December 2008 – Regarding possible contract extension (ESPN): “You play out this season of course; I will consider it. The direction we are headed is everything I expected and more. I definitely want to keep an open mind, I will look at everything. [The extension] is a good point. I think me and my group have pretty much made good decisions so far and we’ll look at the options and go from there.”
The last quote comes one month before his free agency began in 2010. James told Larry King on CNN the Cavaliers were in the lead to re-sign him. We all know how that played out one month later as James departed to Miami.
June 2010 – One month prior to free agency (CNN): “Absolutely,” James said when asked if Cleveland had the edge entering free agency. “Because, you know, this city, these fans, I mean, have given me a lot in these seven years. And, you know, for me, it’s comfortable. So I’ve got a lot of memories here. And – and so it does have an edge.”
LaMarcus Aldridge, free agency 2015 (left Portland for San Antonio)
Two years prior to Aldridge’s free agency, back in 2013, there were persistent rumors about the forward’s desire to be traded or play elsewhere. However, heading into training camp everyone toed the company line.
September 2013 – During Portland’s annual media day festivities (Oregon Live)s: “I’m here, I’m happy, I’m looking forward to the season. This team looks really good. We have a better bench. We have (Robin) Lopez, who’s a true center. So I think this year should be good for us.”
Blazers general manager doubled down on his star player’s stance during the same event, challenging anyone regarding the validity of any potential Aldridge unhappiness.
September 2013 – Neil Olshey at media discussing LaMarcus Aldridge: “Oh, dear God — would you guys get over it? Show me a media report where LaMarcus Aldridge said anything other than, ‘I hope the team improves, I’m excited about what we did, I want to get better, I want to win.’ Then we can have a conversation. Until then, let’s move on. OK? Is that possible?”
Kevin Durant, free agency 2016 (left Oklahoma City for Golden State)
Durant shocked many this past summer by bolting Oklahoma City. But after his MVP acceptance speech two years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find many people who believed his heart wouldn’t be with the Thunder for the long haul – let alone for only the next two years.
May 2014 – Durant’s MVP acceptance speech: “I enjoy being a part of something like this, knowing that when we come into the arena, they’re going to love you no matter what. They’re going to always feel the same way about us. You don’t want to take that for granted, because the grass is not always greener on the other side and you need to learn to appreciate these wonderful people here.”
Dwight Howard, free agency drama of 2011-13 (focusing on his tenure with Orlando)
Howard would ultimately demand a trade from the Orlando Magic, but not before the situation turned into a daily circus of notable quotes. Here are a couple below. Keep in mind, the first comes with Howard having two seasons remaining on his deal before he could exercise his early termination option to become a free agent.
September 2010 – Howard responding to whether he would sign an early contract extension: “I plan on being here forever.. I love Orlando.”
When pressed on whether he would sign the extension from the team, Howard became vague but doubled up on his stance of not leaving.
“I can’t answer that,” Howard said. “I mean, I love Orlando. I don’t want to leave.”
A few short months later, Howard’s tone changed slightly as he became annoyed by constant questions.
February 2011 – Howard asked about signing an extension in Orlando: “Yeah, I am annoyed. I can’t sign a contract this year. I can’t sign anywhere this summer, so why keep bringing it up? Why are people talking about me going any other place right now? Right now is about this season. It’s not about L.A., New York or whatever. I’m really tired of it. I don’t wanna be talking about where I’m gonna be playing basketball next or people in Orlando asking me ‘Are you going to leave us?'”
Howard would ultimately move on to the Los Angeles Lakers before bolting to Houston in free agency after just one season in L.A.
Transitioning back to the future of Anthony Davis, it’s clearly too soon to tell whether his words of commitment will stand the test of time. It’s possible he truly means what he says, it’s just not the first time we’ve heard pledges of loyalty like this. If the departures of recent stars tell us anything, it’s that there’s a big difference in how the language changes once a player gets more leverage and can see the free agency period on the horizon.
How this will impact Davis as we get into 2018 and 2019 remains to be seen.
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