Dan Feldman

General manager of the New Orleans Pelicans Dell Demps, second from left, presents the All Star Game jersey to forward Anthony Davis, right, before an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. Jazz won 127-94. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
AP Photo/Max Becherer

Anthony Davis balancing two sides of New Orleans: All-Star fantasy and Pelicans’ reality

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Anthony Davis refused a question about playing with other All-Stars in the NBA’s annual mid-winter classic.

“I’m not going to talk about All-Star right now,” Davis said after his Pelicans lost to the Pistons earlier this month.

Instead, he wanted to talk only about the Pelicans’ task at hand. And in that respect, playing with other stars would have veered greatly from his desired conversation.

Basketball’s biggest names are descending upon New Orleans this weekend, creating a fantasy world for everyone, but especially Davis. He’ll take his home court with four All-Star teammates, and they’ll be thrilled to play with him. But then they’ll leave, some of them departing together back to the same team. And reality will once again set in for Davis.

By both traditional (27.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per game) and advanced (7.6 win shares, 27.3 PER, +4.25 real plus-minus) metrics, Davis is having another excellent year.

But his team is again not.

The Pelicans are 23-34, headed toward their fourth losing season in his five years. They have one playoff appearance and no playoff wins with Davis.

“He has a dedication to the city, and he wants to be in New Orleans, and he wants to win there, and he wants to be the reason that we win there,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “So, he’s not discouraged in that, if you ask him, does he want out? or any thing like that, no. I don’t think that’s the case.

“Management, they’ve got to do everything they can to try to get the right players around him. And we’ve got to put him in a situation as a coaching staff that they can be successful.”

Since entering the league in 2012, Davis, using win shares and New Orleans’ actual win totals, has individually accounted for 28.5% of the Pelicans’ victories. No player has produced a higher share of his team’s wins in that span. That’s especially remarkable considering Davis has missed 72 games due to injury. The leaderboard:

 

Since that game at Detroit, Davis has opened up about bigger-picture issues — his desire to stay in New Orleans, using All-Star Weekend to recruit. He’s beyond due for more help.

Davis has made four All-Star games without an All-Star teammate in his first five seasons. The only other players to do that were Michael Jordan and David Robinson.

Jordan made the All-Star game without another Bulls player in each of his first five seasons, but Chicago had already acquired Scottie Pippen, who became an All-Star in Jordan’s sixth season and developed into an All-Star mainstay. The Bulls eventually added Dennis Rodman, whose antics – not production – kept him from selection.

Robinson also made the All-Star game each of his first five seasons, though Sean Elliott accompanied him in his fourth (and later, seventh) season. Then, of course, the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan, who was briefly a great sidekick to Robinson and became a superstar as Robinson slid into a supporting role.

Where is Davis’ All-Star teammate coming from?

It’s doubtful that teammate is already on the roster.

The Pelicans’ second-best player is Jrue Holiday, who made an All-Star game with the 76ers. But that was four years ago, and Holiday hasn’t been healthy or productive enough since. Tyreke Evans falls even further short, and the rest of the previous core — Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson — plays for the Rockets.

New Orleans is also short on young talent after trading its first-round pick in the three years following drafting Davis. They dealt what became the No. 6 pick in 2013 and No. 10 pick in 2014 for Holiday and the No. 18 pick in 2015 for Omer Asik.

After bombing to 30-52 last season, New Orleans got a surprising extra crack at a high draft pick, No. 6. The Pelicans picked Buddy Hield, who’s having an up-and-down rookie year. But Hield is already 23 — older than every other 2016 first-round pick save Denzel Valentine and older than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has already signed his rookie-scale contract extension. Hield’s window to show All-Star potential is shorter than his draft-class peers, and he has yet to do so.

New Orleans is on track to have max-level cap space next summer, though re-signing Holiday would exhaust it. The Pelicans are tied to Asik (three more years, $33,859,548) and Alexis Ajinca (two more years, $10,247,192), plodding centers who don’t fit Gentry’s system.

Last summer’s key signings — Solomon Hill (four years, $48 million), E’Twaun Moore (four years, $34 million) and Langston Galloway (two years, $10,634,000) — have collectively underwhelmed. Their long-term salaries make it difficult for general manager Dell Demps to pivot into another plan.

The Pelicans have their own first-round pick and the NBA’s eighth-worst record. It’d be disappointing to wind up back in the lottery for a second consecutive year after what appeared to be a breakthrough run to the 2015 playoffs. But that might be the best path forward.

Davis just hasn’t lifted his team like he did then.

New Orleans has played between a 22- and 33-win pace with him off the court each season of his career. But their win pace with him on the court has ranged from just 29 to 38 — with the exception of 2014-15, when they played like a 55-win team with on the floor.

“These guys follow my lead, and I know that,” Davis said. “I try to get these guys ready to play every night.”

New Orleans’ struggles and Davis’ injuries led to him not being voted an All-Star starter or to an All-NBA team last season — costing him $19,683,908 over four years ($25,434,263 if you count the fifth season of the contract, which follows a player option he’s likely to decline) he would’ve received through the Derrick Rose rule.

He’ll have a chance to earn another major pay bump by making an All-NBA team or two in coming seasons. The numbers are always murky that far out, but if Davis qualifies as a veteran designated player, a new contract beginning in 2020 projects to be worth about $231 million over five years

Not bad for someone who keeps saying he wants to stay with the Pelicans anyway.

Maybe this weekend will help convince another star to join him. In the meantime, once the 23 others All-Stars fly out and leave him in New Orleans, Davis will return to the Pelicans’ reality.

“I’m going to keep fighting,” Davis said.

 

 

Magic GM Rob Hennigan acknowledges his hot seat

Orlando Magic fire head coach Jacque Vaughn
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images
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Under general manager Rob Hennigan, the Magic have gone 20-62, 23-59, 25-57, 35-47 and 21-37.

Their first-round picks — Andrew Nicholson, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid PaytonMario Hezonja — have yielded no stars.

So, in an effort to accelerate their path forward, they acquired several costly veterans last offseason: Serge Ibaka (via trade of Victor Oladipo, No. 11 pick and Ersan Ilyasova), Bismack Biyombo (four-year, $72 million contract), Jeff Green (one-year, $15 million contract and D.J. Augustin (four-year, $29 million contract).

This did little but overload the frontcourt and push Gordon, Orlando’s most promising player, out of position from power forward to small forward. Hennigan has already tried to mitigate the damages by flipping Ibaka to the Raptors for Terrence Ross and a later first-round pick.

Hennigan is also addressing his role in the Magic’s dismal standing.

Hennigan, via Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

“First and foremost, the criticism is warranted,” Hennigan said. “I don’t know if it’s welcome because no one likes to get criticized, but the job we have and the job we’re trying to do is certainly subject to that. Our fans, quite frankly, deserve to be upset and deserve to be frustrated. … I think the proverbial hot seat comes with the territory.”

The most important thing for the Magic to do is acknowledge their place.

If you’re three years away from where you want to be and spend two years going nowhere, you’re still three years from where you want to be. Trying to jam three years of progress into a single year usually just means compounding previous complaints.

Trading Ibaka suggests Hennigan understands that and isn’t angling to keep his job by winning as much as possible this season. (The Ibaka trade was a deal for the future, but I actually believe it will help Orlando this season. Clearing the big-man logjam is addition by subtraction, and Ross adds much-needed wing help.)

I can’t help but wonder: Is Hennigan operating this way because he believes in his job security?

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis to show off New Orleans to fellow stars

New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) drives to the basket past Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)
AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Anthony Davis is tiring of the narrative that his pro basketball career would be better served if he played somewhere other than New Orleans.

During All-Star weekend, the face of the Pelicans franchise will have a chance to exhibit why building a winner in the Big Easy matters to him. And if his enthusiasm for his adopted hometown proves contagious among some of the elite talent gathering in the NBA’s Gulf South outpost, all the better for the “Brow.”

“I was definitely excited for All-Star to come to New Orleans again; New Orleans is a fun place,” said Davis, who was a second-year pro and first-time All-Star when the NBA’s annual marquee event last came to the city in 2014. “It will be a good chance for other players to experience our city, the culture in New Orleans with Mardi Gras and all, and see why we feel New Orleans is one the best places to play basketball as far as the fan base that we have and the culture of the city and everything like that.”

The All-Star game wasn’t supposed to return to New Orleans quite this quickly, but the league pulled the game Charlotte earlier this year because of a North Carolina state law that limits protections of LGBT people.

But this All-Star weekend will be different for Davis than his first, when he was still getting comfortable with pro basketball and life in New Orleans. Davis, nicknamed “the Unibrow” since his college days at Kentucky, was a Western Conference reserve in 2014. Now he’s among the most popular players in the world and an All-Star starter boasting gaudy statistics of nearly 28 points and 12 rebounds per game – not to mention season highs of 50 points, 22 rebounds and six blocks.

What Davis needs now is more help. The Pelicans missed the playoffs in three of his first four pro seasons, and their postseason prospects are in doubt again. Entering Wednesday night’s action, New Orleans was 12 games below .500 and 3 + games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

While Davis doesn’t expect to spend the whole weekend recruiting, he acknowledged that playing host to the NBA’s elite gives him an opportunity to help them envision what it might be like if, via a trade or free agency, they wound up joining him.

“There definitely is a time for that,” Davis said. “The main focus is for everybody to just go out there and have fun.”

Davis was pleased that this year’s All-Star festivities coincide with Mardi Gras. Normally, the NBA schedule takes the Pelicans away from New Orleans during most of pre-Lenten Carnival, which draws millions of tourists to New Orleans for rollicking festivities centered on parades and balls.

“I’m excited to actually be in town,” Davis said.

Then there’s the food. Davis expects to double as a restaurant guide this week. Growing up in Chicago, Davis was all about pizza, which he still eats when he goes home. But in New Orleans, he’s refined his palette, sampling the city’s renowned creole cuisine and fresh Gulf seafood.

“The food is amazing. The little spice it has to it is amazing. The gumbo is amazing,” Davis said. “When you go to other cities and they have New Orleans gumbo or New Orleans-style food or whatever, it tastes nothing like it. I’ve been around the city and got a chance to experience all types of food.

“I actually eat seafood now.”

Davis’ strengthening ties to New Orleans go well beyond fun and flavor. He arrived in the first decade after Hurricane Katrina, an epic disaster from which rebuilding is not entirely complete. Some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods needed help before the storm and even more so afterward, and Davis has immersed himself charitable and community endeavors. His AD’s Flight Academy features events with kids such as basketball camps, bowling and movie nights.

“He keeps himself involved in the community whether that’s helping kids or building up the city. He truly cares,” said Pelicans forward Terrence Jones, who won a NCAA national title with Davis at Kentucky in 2012 and rejoined his college teammate in the NBA this season.

“People have so much joy when they see him at any events we have for the Pelicans,” Jones said. “He’s excited to be able to represent the city.”

Pelicans general manager Dell Demps got a sense of Davis’ commitment to New Orleans when the star big man seized the earliest possible opportunity to sign a five-year, $127 million extension that runs through 2020-21.

Said Demps: “Although Anthony’s from Chicago, he treats New Orleans like it’s his home.”

He wouldn’t mind if one or two of his fellow all-stars did, too.

Dante Exum dunked on Noah Vonleh so badly, it hurt. Literally (video)

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Somebody check on Noah Vonleh — both his hand and pride after that Dante Exum dunk.

Eric Bledsoe gets bumped by Suns teammate Marquese Chriss, still hits half-courter (video)

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The Suns are playing talented/raw Marquese Chriss through his rookie struggles, like getting in the way of Eric Bledsoe late in the first half of Phoenix’s win over the Lakers.

Bledsoe wasn’t frazzled by getting knocked off balance, though. He hit the half-court shot anyway.