Pelicans start 2018 with high aspirations

Posted at 10:46 PM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 23:51:07-04

METAIRIE, La. (AP) – Anthony Davis swatted away the notion that his decision to hire new representation meant he was setting the stage for a change of scenery.

With three seasons left on his contract and five All-Star nods to his name, Davis’ leverage to control where he plays is growing. So when he recently left the Wasserman agency that negotiated his current contract and joined Klutch Sports, which also represents Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, it begged questions about the reasons for the switch.

The move also stoked paranoia in New Orleans, the city Chris Paul left in his prime shortly after he changed agents.

But Davis said the move was aimed primarily at helping him become the “the most dominant player in the league.”

“It was just for where I am right now in my career – what I’m trying to do – I thought the change was necessary,” Davis said Monday, when the Pelicans held media day on the eve of training camp. “That’s all it was.”

Increasingly, agencies representing athletes are involved in player development, particularly during the offseason. A certain agency’s clients might work out together at preferred facilities or with particular trainers, for example.

Theoretically, Davis also could try to parlay his agency switch into a trade aimed at changing the balance of power in the NBA, but whether he does so remains to be seen.

“I’m here,” Davis said. “I want to focus on winning this year with the squad that we have. We have a good squad.”

The 25-year-old, 6-foot-10 Davis has embraced New Orleans since his arrival, dedicating himself to community service and enjoying local cultural traditions that revolve around music, food and festivals. On Monday, he posed for photos next to a painting depicting him as a saxophone player – a scene reminiscent of the city’s jazz clubs.

But Davis hasn’t experienced an abundance of winning in the Big Easy. He has been to the playoffs twice in his six seasons since New Orleans drafted him first overall in 2012. Last season, Davis won both his first playoff game and playoff series – without the help of fellow All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, whose season was shortened by an Achilles tear.

Cousins left for Golden State in free agency, as did veteran guard Rajon Rondo. The Pelicans moved to fill those voids with younger players who appear to fit the up-tempo style coach Alvin Gentry prefers: 6-foot-9 forward Julius Randle and 6-foot-4 guard Elfrid Payton.

With a roster also featuring guard Jrue Holiday and forward Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans hope to be better.

And if they continue to improve, so should their prospects for retaining Davis, Gentry said.

“We have to try to make AD the best player that he can possibly be,” Gentry said. “We have to try to be successful as a franchise, and then if we do all of that, all of the other stuff takes care of itself.”

Small forward Solomon Hill said teammates don’t concern themselves with Davis’ long-term outlook because they’re taking the type of short-term approach Davis has discussed.

Speculation about Davis’ future is “going to happen all through the year,” Hill said, mentioning numerous reports about the Boston Celtics’ interest in orchestrating a blockbuster trade for New Orleans’ franchise player.

“We’ve heard the past couple of years about the Boston thing and them trying to move on AD. I’m thankful that he’s here today,” Hill said. “But he’s a guy that’s committed to playing for the Pelicans, regardless of who is his agent.

“We’re not going to let the stuff that flies in the air distract us from our ultimate goal.”

Dell Demps was in his second year as general manager in New Orleans when the club -then called the Hornets – traded Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers rather than keeping the disgruntled star until the end of his contract and risk losing him for nothing in free agency.

Yet when Paul left, New Orleans’ ownership was in flux, the team’s playoff prospects were uncertain and their practice gym was a temporary facility in a wing of a recreation center.

Now the Pelicans are under the same stable ownership as the NFL’s Saints and have a plush, permanent practice headquarters on the same campus as the football club.

Asked if he could appreciate fears in New Orleans that history might be repeating itself with Davis, Demps responded, “Good question. I’m not sure how to answer it.

“I have told myself, ‘In the NBA, never be surprised.’ You never know what can happen. But we feel good about the team,” Demps said. “We feel good about the relationship with Anthony. We are really more focused on the team winning this year and putting ourselves in the right situation” for sustained success.