Pel­i­cans’ tough call: Play Davis or sit him?

His trade value can be pro­tected only by keep­ing him healthy

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY BRETT MAR­TEL

NEW OR­LEANS — Even with one foot out the door, An­thony Davis is show­ing he can still pro­duce pro­lific statis­tics for the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans.

He needed only 25 min­utes to score 32 points in his first game for New Or­leans since re­quest­ing a trade nearly two weeks ago. Davis also had nine re­bounds and three blocks in a 122-117 win over the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves on Fri­day night.

Whether his pres­ence in the lineup is sustainable for a club that is try­ing to move on with­out him — and pro­tect his trade value by keep­ing him healthy — re­mains to be seen. But for now, coach Alvin Gen­try and other Pel­i­cans vet­er­ans sound in­clined to try to make it work.

“He’s ob­vi­ously made it known that he won’t sign back, but he still loves the game of bas­ket­ball. I know that he loves us as play­ers, and he’s go­ing to go out there and play as hard as he can,” Pel­i­cans point guard Jrue Hol­i­day said. “If An­thony’s out there, that’s the best chance of us win­ning.”

The Pel­i­cans are 25-32 after their 99-90 loss at Mem­phis on Satur­day night, with Davis scor­ing 14 points and hav­ing 16 re­bounds in 34 min­utes. New Or­leans stands six games be­hind the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers for the West­ern Con­fer­ence’s fi­nal play­off spot with 25 games left.

When Davis ini­tially made his trade re­quest pub­lic through his agent, Rich Paul, Davis’ im­age was largely re­moved from the Pel­i­cans’ web­site and pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial. Gen­try also started pro­vid­ing more play­ing time to younger play­ers the club wants to develop.

But after Thurs­day’s trade dead­line passed with­out a deal to move Davis, the Pel­i­cans had to de­cide if they were will­ing to defy NBA rules by shelv­ing their healthy six-time All-Star. For now, they’ve put him back in the start­ing lineup, al­beit on re­duced play­ing time as he works his way back from a sprained left in­dex fin­ger that had side­lined him since Jan. 18.

On Fri­day night, Davis was kept on the bench in a tense fourth quar­ter de­spite the teams be­ing sep­a­rated by as lit­tle as one bas­ket sev­eral times in the wan­ing min­utes.

Gen­try said he lim­ited Davis’ min­utes be­cause it had been weeks since he played.

“I was not go­ing to have him — first game back — play 38, 40 min­utes,” Gen­try said. “I thought he played well the min­utes that he was in there and did a great job. He was typ­i­cal An­thony.”

Gen­try is hop­ing to find a bal­ance that al­lows Davis to play — and hope­fully stay healthy — while al­low­ing other front-court play­ers like the resur­gent Jahlil Okafor and third-year pro Che­ick Diallo to get mean­ing­ful min­utes.

“We talked about that a lot. Some kind of way, we have to keep those guys in the ro­ta­tion and keep them avail­able,” Gen­try said. “Ob­vi­ously, they may not play the amount of min­utes that they’ve been play­ing … but I do think that we have to keep them in the ro­ta­tion and put them in sit­u­a­tions where we can see how their de­vel­op­ment is go­ing and see how they are against the bet­ter play­ers in the league and play­ing with our bet­ter play­ers.”

The Pel­i­cans have made Hol­i­day the face of the fran­chise since Davis’ trade de­mand. The vet­eran guard, who is in the sec­ond year of a five-year, $126 mil­lion con­tract, said he un­der­stands the in­her­ent con­flict be­tween fo­cus­ing on play­ers who are com­mit­ted to the fran­chise long-term and play­ing Davis. But he added, “I think we’re still try­ing to win. Hav­ing An­thony on our team and An­thony on the court, in my opin­ion, is our best chance of win­ning.

“So I guess maybe there’s a lit­tle give and take,” Hol­i­day con­tin­ued. “Maybe you don’t play him 38 min­utes or what­ever. … But if you want to develop guys, we can prob­a­bly find dif­fer­ent slots.”

Gen­try said he wasn’t con­cerned that his play­ers might be dis­tracted dur­ing home games by boos di­rected at Davis.

“We’re in a hell of a lot of trou­ble if we’re go­ing to let boos de­ter­mine if we play hard or not,” Gen­try said.

The coach also sounded con­fi­dent that team chem­istry would not be un­der­mined.

“When you’re a com­peti­tor, when you step out be­tween the lines, you’re go­ing to play bas­ket­ball and you’re go­ing to try to do the best you can with your other team­mates to try to win the bas­ket­ball game,” Gen­try said. “I think that’s where we are right now. The shock of the whole thing is over. Ob­vi­ously he said he doesn’t want to be here; he wants to be traded. All that has been known. Now what we’re try­ing to do is bring back some nor­malcy to the whole sit­u­a­tion and what can we do as coaches and what can we do as team­mates to try to win bas­ket­ball games.”

Davis said he has no re­grets over how he’s han­dled the mat­ter.

“I never re­gret any­thing I do,” he said. He also said he would have un­der­stood if the Pel­i­cans in­sisted on not play­ing him.

“Ob­vi­ously, it’s a busi­ness,” Davis said. “I know their stand­point on it and I was pre­pared for that.”

SCOTT THRELKELD/ASSOCIATED PRESS

New Or­leans for­ward An­thony Davis (23) shoots over Min­nesota cen­ter Gorgui Dieng (5) Fri­day, but he didn’t play in the fourth quar­ter of a 122-117 Pel­i­cans win.

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