For Pelicans, keeping Anthony Davis raises tricky questions
While Davis had stated publicly that he's ready to move on from New Orleans, he also had said he was prepared to play for the Pelicans as long as he remained under contract with them.
"Ultimately, Anthony made it clear to us that he wants to play and he gives our team the best opportunity to win games. Moreover, the Pelicans want to preserve the integrity of the game and align our organization with NBA policies," Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said in a statement. "We believe Anthony playing upholds the values that are in the best interest of the NBA and its fans. We look forward to seeing Anthony in a Pelicans uniform again soon."
The Pelicans initially appeared inclined to move on without Davis and focus on the players who might help them going forward. Davis' image has been removed from promotional materials, the club's official website and even a team hype video that plays before home games on the Smoothie King Center's expansive scoreboard screens hanging above the court.
But benching a healthy player could potentially infringe on NBA rules designed to protect the investments of ticket holders and broadcast partners alike against the prospects of star players being arbitrarily rested.
Those rules, for example, prohibit clubs from "resting healthy players for any high-profile, nationally televised game." Doing so, the rules state, "will constitute conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA and result in a fine of at least $100,000."
The Pelicans play next on Friday night at home against Minnesota, and the game is slated for national television.
There is a gray area in that the rules provide for exceptions in "unusual circumstances," but the Pelicans elected not to force the NBA into a position of having to rule on whether Davis' public trade request through his agent, Rich Paul, constituted an unusual circumstance in this case.
Public trade requests are also banned by NBA rules, and Davis was fined $50,000.
Here are some other considerations the Pelicans had to weigh:
— It would be in the Pelicans' interest to avoid any risk of a basketball-related injury to Davis, given the likelihood of re-engaging a number of teams in trade talks after the season.
—The market for Davis becomes clearer after the NBA draft lottery, when all teams' 2019 picks have more concrete trade value.
— In addition, the market for Davis should improve when the Boston Celtics are able to strengthen trade offers they make this summer.
Boston, which has a stockpile of draft picks and promising young players as trade bait, is not eligible to trade for Davis under NBA rules until July 1, unless the Celtics also trade away Kyrie Irving. Irving is a factor because of what's known as the Rose Rule, which says NBA teams cannot trade for more than one player who has signed an extension. Irving currently is playing under an extension signed with Cleveland that has an option year after this season, meaning it could be renegotiated in a way that also allows Boston to bid for Davis.
—The NBA Players Association could have gotten involved on Davis' behalf if he had been benched against his wishes.
The union did not return messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday. Paul, who represents Davis, also declined comment.
— Playing Davis helps the Pelicans put the best product on the court for fans in the stands and give them the best chance to win. New Orleans entered Thursday night's action six games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 27 games left.
— The decision reduced the odds of a fight between the Pelicans and the union or discipline from the NBA.
— Davis appears healthy. Before New Orleans defeated the Bulls in Chicago on Wednesday night, he was not on the club's injury report, meaning he was technically available to play after recovering from a Jan. 18 sprain of his left index finger that had sidelined him the previous eight games. He was not listed on the Pelicans' injury report released on Thursday afternoon in advance of the game against the Timberwolves.
— Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has said the club had decided not to play Davis before Thursday's trading deadline. However, he had offered no indication of what the club would do if Davis remained in New Orleans for the rest of the season.
—Giving Davis playing time potentially creates an awkward situation in the locker room because he is essentially a lame-duck star. Also, his playing time could come at the expense of players the Pelicans want to develop for the future.