Adam Silver: Pelicans playing Anthony Davis three quarters, sitting him in fourth ‘not a good solution’

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The Anthony Davis situation is undeniably complicated.

He requested a trade from the Pelicans. But the Celtics – the team with the best assets to offer – can’t realistically trade for him until the offseason, because both Davis and Kyrie Irving are designated rookie scale players until then. So, New Orleans kept Davis through last month’s trade deadline.

So, what happens to Davis the rest of this season?

He’s healthy and says he wants to play.

The Pelicans seemingly wanted to shut him down.

The NBA reportedly threatened to fine them if they did that.

So, the sides struck a compromise – Davis continuing to play, but seeing reduced minutes. He has played nine of the Pelicans 11 games since the deadline. He’s averaging 23 minutes per game, down from 37 before the deadline. Last night was the first time since the deadline he played at all in the fourth quarter, making a cameo to defend the final inbound pass in New Orleans’ win over the Jazz.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver at the Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference:

Some things don’t lend themselves to easy solutions. And playing him for three quarters then resting him in the fourth is not a good solution. And maybe we’ll get to a different place.

I get it. It’s a bad dynamic in New Orleans. And I hear, and people in this room are talking and writing. And it’s a bit of a mess, right?

When I hear people say, “Stay out of a team’s affairs. They should just be able to do whatever they want.” Frankly, that’s not how leagues operate. We have resting rules. We have tanking rules.

Any individual general manager or team, they’re doing everything within the rules to compete to win. And that’s fine. And sometimes, you could argue that they’re gaming the rules, and we’ve changed things, because we’ve realized they’re ahead of us or they figure things out through analytics, and we adjust. But the current set of rules, it’s their right to do whatever within the rules.

But then my job, and I think sometimes people misunderstand this – it’s obviously a zero-sum game in terms of wins and losses for our teams. So, my job is to look at all the other competition outside of the NBA.

This notion that sort of the Pelicans are just competing against the Knicks or the Lakers or the Thunder – they’re competing against every other form of entertainment out there in the world.

I look at the ratings. The interest in the team is still going to be greater with Anthony Davis on the floor than not on the floor. He is a top player in this league. People are paying to see him compete. If we had said, “Fine, somehow just shelve him, rest him going forward,” the people who are paying money to see him may say – or who thought they were paying money to see him – might say, “I want my money back now.” There’s two side of these issues.

I keep reading that it’s that we’re afraid that the union is going to challenge. I mean, honestly, at the end of the day for me, it’s less about – we work with the players association. We work with the players. It’s less to me that there’s a fear of a lawsuit. It’s that you have one of the best players in the league.

He broke our rules by publicly demanding a trade. Or his agent did and then he followed up by saying something at All-Star, which he shouldn’t have.

I’m watching their games. He’s playing, and he’s playing hard.

So, that’s the difficult dynamic we’re in right now.

Silver also brought up a hypothetical: Davis requesting a trade from the Pelicans, but doing so privately. Would New Orleans still want to mysteriously – to the public, at least – sit its best player to protect his health for an offseason trade?

It’s an apt question.

The answer: Maybe. Bad teams frequently sit helpful veterans in order to tank. The trade request adds a layer here, but the situation isn’t entirely unique. Tanking is the elephant in the room that must be addressed.

I also disagree with Silver that Davis shouldn’t have opened up about his trade request at All-Star Weekend. Davis was sharing his thoughts with fans eager to hear from him. He might have been confusing in the process, but he was generally being transparent. That’s good, not a problem. Same with Rich Paul communicating Davis’ trade request.

I agree with Silver on pushing the Pelicans to play Davis. He’s one of the NBA’s best players. Making him a healthy scratch for months would have been a black mark for the league.

I’d prefer clear rules require, or at least actually incentivize, teams to play their good players – even late in losing seasons. Silver enforcing resting rules on a case-by-case basis is problematic and too arbitrary.

But this was a case where the commissioner was right to exercise his broad power. Davis drives interest. It was important to keep him on the court.

Mostly, I appreciate Silver acknowledging the complexity of the situation. Silver even said the current, seemingly league-approved plan is “not a good solution.” It might be the best of all the bad solutions, though. Or maybe there’s a better one. It’s worth continuing to consider, and I’m impressed Silver is willing to do that openly.

I just wish he’d grant Davis and Paul the right to proceed with similar transparency.