In the middle of a season gone bad, the New Orleans Pelicans found themselves on the brink as a franchise — their star player wanted out, his high-powered agent was trying to orchestrate it and plenty of fans were left trying to figure out whether they still cared enough anymore to even be outraged.
Yet, the franchise never panicked and never blinked.
Anthony Davis went nowhere. The team destroyed whatever chemistry there was on the Los Angeles Lakers by dangling him as trade bait (the same Lakers who employ LeBron James, whose best friend and agent is Rich Paul, who also represents Davis). A new executive vice president was hired by New Orleans with the goal of either keeping Davis or quickly rebuilding.
It wasn’t much, but at least it was something.
Then came Tuesday, when — like some wild French Quarter dice game — the Pelicans walked into the NBA draft lottery with a 6 percent shot at the top pick and walked out with Zion Williamson.
Hi-lo yo and now everything changed.
Zion Williamson has a mega-watt smile and the type of talent, energy and charisma to lift a franchise. (AP Photo/Nuccio DiNuzzo)
Davis said he wanted to be surrounded by talent. Well, how about a 6-foot-7, 285-pound sensation out of Duke? Is that something you might be interested in? The prospect of Zion and the Brow in the frontcourt is tantalizing, a couple of freak athletes who complement each other, alley-oops upon alley-oops.
“Definitely the versatility, the ability to block shots and rebound and just the want to win,” Williamson said on ESPN on Tuesday about the similarities between him and the athletic, 6-foot-10 Davis, whom the team took first overall in the 2012 draft.
Is Zion enough for Davis to reconsider? AD is still a free agent after the 2019-20 season. He can get more money by staying in New Orleans though. New executive vice president David Griffin, who looked beside himself at his great fortune, says he is all in on mending the relationship between player and franchise.
Griffin hasn’t been successful yet, but he didn’t have many cards to play. Now he has an ace in the hole.
The power dynamic has, if not flipped, at least moved in the team’s direction now.
Losing Davis, a brilliant talent, was once crushing to a team that is still trying to find roots and credibility in the Big Easy.
Yes, he could fetch some assets, but big rebuilds in small markets are long and slippery roads.
Now though, here’s Zion, possibly the most talented player to enter the NBA since Davis and the biggest sensation since LeBron in 2003. Now everything is revitalized. Tickets will sell. Television will come. The possibilities are endless. The future is now.
And if Davis still doesn’t want to be a part of that, then whatever combination of players and picks he brings are even more valuable because the strongest cornerstone of the rebuild is already in place.
New Orleans isn’t starting from scratch now. It’s well on its way.
So now the ball is back in Anthony Davis’ court. Even if he says he still wants out, the Pelicans could hold off on trading him until midseason and make him play alongside Zion, make him see what this could be, make him feel everything he always hoped the Pelicans would be and then see if it alters his viewpoint.
New Orleans got put in a bad spot last offseason when Paul went public with AD’s desires. It stood its ground though. It vowed to do things on its terms. It bought time until, suddenly, the long odds came through.
Maybe Davis stays or maybe he goes, but quicker than Zion on a fast break, the Pelicans have a future, one way or the next.
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