Potentially, The New Orleans Pelicans’ Most Dangerous Game

Published: December 27, 2014

Tonight, the New Orleans Pelicans will play . . . potentially . . . their most dangerous game.

Tonight, the New Orleans Pelicans take on the re-emerging Chicago Bulls. Someone else will detail the game and the Bulls. The Bulls aren’t the problem. Well, not really.

The dangerous opponent is Chicago. The city itself. Not “the market.”

The Second City. The Windy City. The Married with Children City.

The Anthony Davis City.

Anthony Davis grew up in Chicago and attended high school at the Rodney D. Joslin campus of the Perspectives Charter Schools also in Chicago. His campus was not to far from a terminus of I-55 (the end not in Louisiana), not too far from Soldier Field, not too far from the less-magnificent portion of Michigan Avenue.

Since his time in the NBA, however, he has yet to play in front of the city he called home for so long. “He has chills thinking [about] it.”

I’m all for Davis getting that experience and loving it.

Nevertheless, we need to recognize that this personal allure represents a threat to the future of Davis with the New Orleans Pelicans. As with many aspects of the NBA, one need only look to LeBron James.

When Chris Paul was in New Orleans, LeBron James decided to take a short max extension by the Cavaliers. By doing so, he held Cleveland to a high standard in the short term. When they failed to live up, he left for Miami, taking a pay cut relative to the max allowed, in order to play with high quality, experienced players put together by Pat Riley, a magnet for NBA success. Let’s not fail to mention: It worked. James got his rings (2) and appeared in the Final each season he was with the Heat (4).

During this time, fans and writers in New Orleans and around the world were just waiting for Chris Paul to bolt amid the ever-more-apparent ownership issues, especially since he took a short max extension, just like his good friend, LeBron James. This was following the amazing run the team had in the season when the franchise returned to play full-time in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal government’s levees. The contrast in emotions from the highs of that season (despite the Game 7 Second Round loss to the Spurs) to the meniscus injury, to the ownership debacle, to the lockout, to the trade, to the Eric Gordon injury . . . it was quite simply curdling rather than than merely disgusting.

Enter Tom Benson off the court, enter Anthony Davis on. Enter the Pelicans. Enter Holiday. Enter a host of higher priced players that seemed to elude the franchise before. Setting aside people’s evaluations of team make-up, the vibe was better. Ownership was making investments and had the key elements for building success and a franchis with longevity in New Orleans.

Unlike LeBron James and Chris Paul coming off their rookie deals, Anthony Davis will be highly incentivized to take a much longer deal, and he’ll be able to take that deal this offseason. The short time table will not be in play, and the Pelicans will have a longer time to try to build up their organization and team into one capable of retaining Davis at the end of THAT deal.

Of course, part of the lesson of the Chris Paul saga is that teams can be forced to trade a player away before they become a free agent. Here, the force comes from reason and economics (not finances), which is driven by the player, but it is not solely the player’s choice. For those looking for other examples, see Dwight Howard (twice) and Carmelo Anthony.

As soon as the Pelicans acquired the rights to Davis, they were on the clock, though a somewhat longer one that the franchise was on with Chris Paul. They, of course, also had a ton of work to do.

Which brings us back to LeBron James.

Though his move to Miami sent many NBA fans and writers into a tizzy while his return to Cleveland was an eagerly awaited inverse tizzy, I recognize the other side to the coin. In the LeBron-to-Miami case, there was a formula laid out. If you want this player, do that. In fact, if you do that well enough, they will, relatively speaking, pay you to play for you by taking pay cuts relative to their CBA-adjusted market value.

In this case, LeBron James, soon to be the undisputed embodiment of the NBA if he is not already (see: Kobe), wadded up the formula, tossed it in the flaming Cuyahoga, and laughed as he went to a team that not-ready-for primetime, but had some assets to make a leap, provided they added James . . . which they did. James, while continuing to take relative pay cuts, is still holding the team to standards by taking what is effectively a pair of 1-year deals with the team. Offsetting this, he’s publicly declared his patience and his dedication to his hometown (or his home region).

And this is exactly the balrogdarthvaderborgvoldemortskeksisgmorkdalekjarethgozervigo of it all.

Prior to James’ sauntering back to Ohio, Davis would have to break precedent to leave a “big three,” should one be formed in New Orleans, to leave for an uncertain situation in Chicago. Now, Davis has years and years to think about swooping in to save Chicago following the Rose era, or at least at the tail end of it. He can also see.how it works out for James. Likely, it will work out enough to encourage other players to do the same if they are inclined and thr situation is similar.

And there is nothing New Orleans can do about it. If Davis wants to go to Chicago, Chicago will get word and prepare for it, whether it be before the end of his deal or before. And if he wants it, having a title contending team with good talent and a great front office will not be enough, as it was not for James.

James’ move this summer may not have affected things one bit, but I can’t help but feel that a figure such as James commands the attention of all NBA players, particularly stars like Davis. Pile onto this that Chicago has a fantastic legacy and has much to offer a guy who says his favorite food is pizza (and we are told Davis packs it away). We can trot out Mo’s, Oak Oven, Happy Italian, Ancora, That’s Amore, Cafe Nino, and more, but we can’t bring in all that other stuff Chicago has, like that Adventures in Babysitting building.

Or his roots.

It’s home, first and foremost, and that just can not be duplicated or maybe even competed with.

If Da Bulls are contenders, then they can make it happen. If not, all they have to do is apply the Clevelandified-tanking model: Collect assets via draft and trade using your cap space and loss-tolerance as assets, then flip those player assets for better players once the team has “acquired” a superstar free agent. This will be possible because the players will be decent prospects (for the most part if you do your job right) and the bad contracts will become better ones as their lengths shorten, or they’ll turn into the necessary cap space, which is where the loss-tolerance asset comes into play.

New Orleans will have to present that much more solid and shiny a package . . . potentially . . . to counter the allure from Chicago even if they are not a premier team. They’ll also have to make sure he feels rooted here, a home away from home, not just sleepaway camp.

And maybe get this dude to eat some local food.

No aspect can be ignored.

I recommend High Hat, and save room for dessert.


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