The New Orleans Pelicans Need the Anthony Davis Controversy

Surprise, surprise, the biggest New Orleans Pelicans story centers around the New Orleans Pelicans starriest of players who is approaching the time period where he’ll be approaching free agency. As we approached approaching approaching, many prepared by glibly discussing the movement of the generational talent. The reactions to these pieces, even “Hey, calm down, they can’t trade for him” are met with vitriol, and even approaching approaching approaching is not even approached by some.

I get that fans in New Orleans are already tired of it and we aren’t even approaching approaching yet, but here’s the thing:

The New Orleans Pelicans need the Anthony Davis controversy.

Let’s break it down, pro and con style, starting with the obvious “Controversy Cons” . . .

Controversy Cons

  • Appearance of truth.
    • The pervasiveness of the fallacy that “If there is smoke, then there is fire” and its analogs sickens my rational being. It’s entirely possible that false statements appear true, and this inaccurate appearance can cause action that affects things just as if those statements were true. This can be highly unfortunate. For example, if a free agent decided to take an equal contract elsewhere because “Davis will force his way out,” but he would have taken a deal in New Orleans otherwise, that miss may in fact influence Davis to force his way out, insidiously validating the false statement. Highly unfortunate.
    • This is putting the cart before the horse. Davis would not talk about being disaffected until he is. The things that caused him to be disaffected are the problem, and those are well in the past by the time people start talking about it. At that point, you are reacting to your own surprise; Davis is not. There is the issue of correctability of those disaffecting things and how controversy might affect those, but that seems a lesser issue. As far as players making decisions based on falsehoods is concerned, it’s very likely the players and their representatives are talking, which likely clears up much of this, though that is clearly imperfect. Just remember: it is extremely likely the media is hearing about things well after the meaningful events occurred.
  • Disruption to players.
    • Without a doubt, players are aware of rumors of this scale. It’s certainly possible for the locker room to be affected by persistent rumors. Beyond that, it can affect the entire organization, especially when fans are asking questions of the organization at games, during events, or as part of sales calls. Players’ personal lives can be affected, too, especially those with children.
    • I think this is a legit negative. As it comes with the job and happens often, I think the threshold is higher before things happen on this level than with sensitive and in-the-dark fans. Still, it’s never good with players’ work environment, personal life, or those of the people close to them to feel negativity based on swirling rumors.
  • Potential negative light on Bensonia.
    • If people believe Davis wants to go, true or not, there are reasons, and some of those are likely going to be tied to the organization itself. They’ve repeatedly been the subject of negative comments. Between that persistence of coherent (perhaps false) comments and another star looking to leave, it’s reasonable that these will be even more self-reinforcing, further limiting the ceiling of the franchise as stars continue to bypass New Orleans.
    • While there are legitimate knocks on the organization and some effects of it just being “new,” some of what is said is false, and that fact has not lessened the comments, even among those that think they know the teams best. Another piece of data confirming what people think they know is not going to make a practical difference. What would make a difference is something unexpected, and that is what the organization needs to focus on. Likewise, fans and writers need to be more even and data-based in their takes, but that’s not going to happen soon given . . . many factors.
  • I’m tired.
    • I get it. I said it, and I live it. People familiar with my work know that I don’t truck with nonsense, and much of this is just nonsense, but part of that is me getting it, not that I’m “above it.” I’m a longtime season ticket holder, which is a badge for me. I’m a fan, and I broadcast it. It’s sooo annoying, and all the chatter is a legit drag for legit fans.
    • As a counter to this, I would say that this is simply inalienable. It’s going to happen. Moreover, we’re trying to attract stars. It’s not really a zero-sum game, but it’s a close approximation, and it is exactly one to some people. You can’t attract people to play with Davis without tacitly approving of people trying to attract Davis. At some point, you have to accept the annoyance, understand the issue at a different scale, or get out.

Controversy Pro

  • Building Interest
    • All the talk, no matter how tenuously it ties to reality, builds interest in Davis. If Davis might leave New Orleans soon (or even before now), then people start noticing, thinking, watching, talking. They get excited. So what? Well, the more people show elevated interest in Davis as compared to other star players, the better the chance of him striking the signature shoe deal of the level he’s been seeking. His move to Klutch was certainly not about increasing the value of his NBA contract. His prior agent, Thad Foucher, guided Westbrook to a massive deal with Jordan, but nothing of the level that interested Davis came about for him. Heightened interest is something that may make a difference. Lo’ and behold, after signing with Klutch, there is a media blitz coming a tad too early to make real sense. Seems to me Klutch is doing their job, and if he lands the shoe deal, that’s one less reason to leave, and I think it could be a big reason.
    • It’s conceivable that interest in Davis really has not changed meaningfully, but I discount this. We’ve heard people try to compare Towns or others to Davis, and it just rings hollow to anyone paying attention. Those writers were not, or they were and thought they could get more interest by allocating their praise in a way that is inconsistent with talent. That’s not happening anymore. Davis is getting the (deserved) hype because people are interested, and writers are responding. The move shows the machine is doing its job.

Controversy Conclusions

I look at cons, their counters, the pro, its counter . . . and I end up with a conclusion that I feel is both obvious and strong: The controversy is good. The most likely negative consequences are to people who support Davis, so if it actually ends up helping to keep Davis in New Orleans a little longer, it’s likely worth it on balance. On the other hand, there is nothing else than can be done, at least in the short term, to help Davis land a signature shoe deal. Generation of interest is both critical to it and an asset for which nothing can be a substitute. There are other ways to generate interest, and while Davis has benefited from some of these, many of those have not been afforded to Davis: Consistent winning, frequent post-season performances, historic performances and awards. The New Orleans market size is not nearly as much of a factor as all of that just discussed, and Westbrook’s deal was done with him in Oklahoma City, with Davis’ pre-Klutch agent, is evidence of this. Westbrook has a more marketable image, sure, and maybe Davis’ expectations are too high, but that really does not matter as much as how the he assigns the blame for the lack of a deal that meets his standards failing to materialize.

The move to Klutch is not to help him stay in New Orleans; it is to help him make big money outside of the NBA. Not necessarily every possible penny, but he can’t leave a decent fraction of a billion dollars on the table. That’s pure idiocy.

Even if the deal is not signed and announced, Davis and his team will know if the progress is to a point where “New Orleans or not” is no longer a discriminator.

So bring on the non-tampering in the media, because that helps. The dinners and texts and conversations are all happening. They happen in the media to accomplish a purpose or because there is a slip. To me, LeBron James making his public comments about Davis when asked a question by a media member was likely a shot across the bow in El Segundo. At dinner, who knows? Maybe it was about playing in LA, maybe it was about how to make a choice to leave a team (like leaving Cleveland), or how to make it work on a team that struggles (like returning to Cleveland), or about shoe deals, or about the best pizza in the world.

None of that matters, because the world can change so much between today and when the decisions are made, and maybe that is actually for the best.

As a final side note I’ll state the nearly-obvious: Leaving Davis’ non-NBA money out of the picture, the more talk there is about Davis and the longer is goes on, the more teams might try to find their way into the mix, either directly to get him or to facilitate. Either way, a strong market for the player is good should he demand a trade or if it just becomes the best option.

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