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.
The Pelicans are nothing special. New Orleans is 10-11, at the tail end of the enormous pack of Western playoff contenders. The Pels have lost four straight games, 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.
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.
If Davis rejects the contract, that will signal that he is willing to take less money to choose his own team in 2020.
That should signal to the Pelicans that Davis should be traded for assets as soon as possible.
That means that we are possibly watching Davis’s final season in New Orleans.
None of this is certain. Davis hasn’t showed his hand on his future — he could follow the path of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and John Wall and sign the supermax in 2019.
It just seems unlikely 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, but the other possibilities out there must be 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.
If Davis declines the deal this summer, 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.