The Real Reason New Orleans Lost Anthony Davis
The New Orleans Pelicans have been trying to convince anyone who will listen (especially their fans) that larger market teams used backhanded tactics to lure Anthony Davis away from New Orleans. They want you to believe that he didn’t decide to leave because of their years of incompetence, but because of tampering by teams in markets too big to compete with. The clichéd excuse of the “small market team” is one that allows bad ownership and management to dodge the blame for their incompetence, and that is exactly what New Orleans has been doing since trading away Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, respectively.
With the emergence of basketball as the world’s second-favorite sport, players and teams are able to reach a global market through solid management of their brands on various social media platforms and streaming services. We live in an era where the Lakers missed the playoffs during every season of LeBron’s second run in Cleveland because they couldn’t attract legitimate superstar talent (that wasn’t over the hill or Dwight Howard) to play with Kobe.
If you watched the NBA from 2000 on, you saw the San Antonio Spurs fight their way into the pantheon of great franchises with five championships. Small market teams have outperformed the Knicks, the Lakers, and the Celtics consistently for almost two decades now, but the Pelicans have fallen back on this antiquated talking point? Why?
From the choosing of the team mascot and team name (The Sound, The Cajuns, anything but the bird with the elastic neck) to the handling of Davis during this current season, the Pelicans have repeatedly shown that they are an organization that does not know what they are doing. David Stern’s drive-by verbal assault of Dell Demps wasn’t fair, and was one of the pettiest things I’ve ever seen in a professional setting that didn’t involve hip hop, but he wasn’t wrong.
Look at how Demps and the Pelicans front office handled DeMarcus Cousins after his injury. Demps and the front office either didn’t recognize or understand four key factors that should have had them jumping at the opportunity to resign Boogie:
- Explosiveness was never the ‘it’ factor in Boogie’s game
- Your homegrown superstar loved playing with him
- You keep the Lakers or the Warriors from picking him up in free agency
- You show Cousins, Davis, and any potential future free agents that you see them as more than commodities to be discarded when they break.
Demps, and everyone else in the front office, was under the impression that the rental of Cousins was enough to show Davis that the Pelicans were trying to build a winning team for him. Or maybe they had been convinced because Davis is a relatively quiet superstar that hadn’t voiced his displeasure publicly. With these recent failures, many would place the blame solely on Demps, but the epicenter of the Pelicans front office issues has always rested directly at the top. Ownership has changed since the move to New Orleans: first to the NBA through a buyout of George Shinn, then to Tom Benson, and eventually to Gayle Benson, yet the messiness has remained.
Though not as sordid as Shinn’s tenure as owner (if you’re unaware of how George Shinn lost the Hornets, it’s worth googling), the Bensons have been embroiled in legal disputes that involve the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans. This includes Tom Benson, the late owner of the Saints and the Pelicans; Tom Benson’s children, who have sued for ownership of both teams after being removed from Benson’s will under... interesting circumstances; and Gayle Benson, Tom Benson’s wife since 2004 who inherited the teams when Tom passed away.
The city loves the Benson family for their charitable donations and aid during and after Hurricane Katrina, as well as their commitment to keeping both the Saints and Pelicans in New Orleans (and also because they are not George Shinn). Still, none of that changes the fact that they don’t seem to know how to manage a basketball team.
This is the outlook for Pelicans fans for the foreseeable future. Your team is in a situation where ownership is a mess, your training staff works half of the year for a football team, and your best player has realized that he is on a team that has little chance of righting itself. Alvin Gentry was right about this season: it is a “dumpster fire” where his best-case scenario might be getting fired so he can start over with an established or rising superstar and a functional front office.
The Pelicans lost Davis because they are bad at being a basketball organization, not because they are in a small market, or because LeBron and Magic Johnson tampered with Davis. It’s not because LA, Boston and New York have better night life, but because they do things like hiring Danny Ferry in response to having a bad GM or trading away Buddy Hield to rent DeMarcus Cousins (and then end up losing both players for free). They named the team after a water bird and King Baby is still a mascot. No, New Orleans, it’s not the size of your market that’s the issue, it’s how your ownership uses it.