‘Just want him to be happy’


CHICAGO — Hands jammed into his pockets, wearing a puffy black and white coat, New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis chatted up coaches off to the side of the court, while the rest of the team fielded questions about the man who no longer wants to be a part of the team.

No matter how redundant or ridiculous the inquiries, the responses from Davis’ teammates never wavered.

“I love having Anthony around,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. “It’s been fun playing with him, fighting and battling with him.”

Despite Davis’ desire to end his tenure in New Orleans, no one in the visiting locker room before the Pelicans’ 125-120 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday expressed even the slightest hint of animosity. In fact, the general sentiment among the Pelicans was one of support, and the general feeling that Davis must do what’s best for him, even if it means doing it elsewhere.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry balked at the idea that Davis somehow let down him and the organization.

“Why would I do that, man?” Gentry asked. “He’s a great kid. When he’s been on the court, he’s given us everything that he has. So no, I don’t feel let down by him at all. Whatever happens is going to happen, and we’ll go from there. A lot of the things, we’ve got no control over anyway. So what we have to do is focus on what we have to get done as a team.”

New Orleans’ trip to Chicago brought forth mini reunions for Davis and Jahlil Okafor, both natives of the city, as well as Nikola Mirotic, who started his NBA career with the Bulls, before joining the Pelicans in 2018 via trade.

So as Mirotic burst into the Bulls’ broadcast locker room before the game to raucous cheers, Okafor quietly worked with a woman from the ticket office stuffing an envelope full of 12 postgame passes for family attending the game.

All the while, Davis hung near the back portion of the locker room with one of his two personal security guards.

The scene seemed pretty mundane, almost too routine. It was similar to two nights before in New Orleans, when Davis visited the Pelicans’ family room minutes after their 109-107 loss to the Indiana Pacers as if nothing had ever happened.

Remember, Davis had requested a trade through agent Rich Paul a little more than a week ago, sending shockwaves through the NBA, as he informed New Orleans his preferred destinations included the Los Angeles Lakers and the LA Clippers, as well as the Milwaukee Bucks. Davis told the Pelicans he wouldn’t sign a five-year, $239 million supermax contract with the club this summer or next, and he has also made it known that he doesn’t plan to sign an extension with any team this summer, as the plan is to do so once he becomes a free agent in 2020.

The situation resulted in near-constant rumors about where Davis might land next as well as an onslaught of extra media attention in New Orleans and on the road.

But through it all, Gentry has worked diligently to keep the team together. Okafor sees the situation as a positive for New Orleans’ growth in the future. With Davis off the floor, Okafor has capitalized on the opportunity, averaging 18.9 points and 10.4 rebounds over his last eight games going into Wednesday’s matchup. Against the Bulls, Okafor racked up 13 points through the first three quarters on 6-of-8 shooting.

“I think we’re going to be better for it,” Okafor said. “There was definitely a lot of drama, and a lot of whispers going around of what we were going to do with AD requesting the trade. But we’re just trying to stay together. And AD has been great. He’s been in the locker room, he’s been on the bench, supportive. He continues to help me every day. So I’m super grateful for him. This is my fourth year in the NBA, and this is pretty typical for around this time of the year to hear all of the speculation and trades going down. I know that anybody in this locker room could be traded at any point. I’m aware of that myself, but I try not to think about it too much.”

Instead, Okafor said he continues to lean on Davis for guidance, even though that tutelage might be temporary. The NBA’s trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. But as of Wednesday, the Pelicans still hadn’t responded to the Los Angeles Lakers‘ latest trade proposal for Davis, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and the sense from within the organization is it’s unlikely the Pelicans will move him before the deadline.

Asked if Davis’ demeanor had changed since requesting the trade, Okafor quickly spoke up.

“No, not at all,” Okafor said. “He’s like my big brother. He takes care of me. If he has any advice for me, he’ll let me know. If he sees anything I can improve on, he’ll let me know. That hasn’t changed. Selfishly, I would love to be by him every day like I have been this year. But at the end of the day, I just want him to be happy. If I’m being selfish, of course, I’m going to say that I want you to be my teammate.”

Holiday expressed similar sentiments, just minutes after Gentry announced Davis was ready to return from the sprained left index finger that has kept him out of New Orleans’ last nine games. Even though Davis is healthy enough to play, Gentry said the team plans to sit him until the trade deadline passes.

If Davis remains on the roster after that, the team’s brass will have to make a decision about whether to sit him for the remainder of the season to protect New Orleans’ most valuable asset for an expected summertime trade.

Gentry has made it clear on numerous occasions that he won’t have much input on how New Orleans proceeds with Davis, should he remain on the roster past the trade deadline. Gentry said he’s also not paying attention to any reports regarding potential destinations for Davis, saying “not in my job description,” when the topic was broached.

“Obviously, it’s on everyone’s mind,” Gentry said. “But we just try to put it on the backburner, and focus on the task at hand. I think everything kind of clears up [after Davis is traded], at least for a while. And you can go back to I guess whatever our new normal is going to be. It’s just part of it. It’s part of the business, and you just deal with it like you would anything else.”

As for Holiday, the best place to deal is on the hardwood.

“I’m here to play basketball with whoever is out here,” he said. “Obviously you see trades happening and stuff like that. Sometimes you do wonder what is going to happen with some of your teammates. I feel like for everybody, there’s uncertainty. But when we come here to the court, it’s kind of like a sanctuary.”

Source : ESPN