The first reaction was euphoria.
When the New Orleans Pelicans logo was emblazoned inside the envelope reserved for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, there was no second thought. Just pure jubilation.
Coach Alvin Gentry’s ebullient reaction spoke for a legion of battered Pelicans’ fans, throwing his arms up in the air, shouting an expletive and strutting around the Hilton Chicago conference room to hand out thunderous high fives to unsuspecting recipients. The party was on.
Who had room to think beyond that moment? The Pelicans actually won.
And Zion Williamson, the most coveted player to come out of college in a generation, is overwhelmingly likely coming to New Orleans.
But, once the shock and exhilaration subsided, there was one all-too-familiar question facing the franchise.
What does this mean for Anthony Davis?
After pondering this exact thought for years, Tuesday’s events brought the topic back to the forefront of the conversation. However, those in Davis’ camp told national reporters his stance remains unchanged.
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Davis still believes it’s “his time” and he wants out of New Orleans before the final guaranteed year on his contract expires. Of course he does.
Why would anyone think watching the draft lottery on television would immediately alter his mindset?
But those messages clearly didn’t dissuade the Pelicans. In fact, executive vice president David Griffin spent a significant portion of his post-lottery victory lap describing how he can keep Davis in New Orleans.
“(The lottery) doesn’t change anything about our situation with Anthony, other than the fact it maybe gives him one more sign things are turning in a different direction,” Griffin said. “I think relative to Anthony, what he’s wanted to do is win. And he was frustrated with the situation and didn’t think he could do that in New Orleans at the time.
“I think if he looks in totality of what’s happened since Mrs. Benson and her ownership team have empowered us and put us in position to make a difference, I think he is going to have a lot of reason to be confident.”
As crazy as it sounds, and as unlikely as it might be, Griffin has a point.
The franchise Davis bailed on in January is markedly different from the one that will be formally pitching to him in a meeting later this month. After suffering through five losing seasons in seven years, Davis lost faith in the previous regime and sought a way out, alienating fans in the process by handling it clumsily.
But Griffin is playing with a different deck than his predecessor, Dell Demps, able to sell a variety of fresh ideas to keep the best player in franchise history.
Not only is Griffin a new architect preaching a new message, but he’s overhauled the medical department by hiring celebrated trainer Aaron Nelson, and is the point person driving the renovations on the team’s facility, a tangible display of newfound investment from owner Gayle Benson. Tuesday simply added an on-court asset to add to the pitch, with Williamson waiting to pull a Pelicans cap on at podium, sending accompanying shockwaves of energy into the city.
And, oh yeah, the Pelicans can still offer Davis more money than anyone else, thanks to the five-year, $240 million supermax at their disposal.
Is all of this enough to persuade Davis though? Probably not.
Even after the wave of momentum, Griffin is still a decided underdog in these negotiations and he admits Tuesday’s stroke of lottery luck and Davis’ decision are largely unconnected events. If Davis even considers returning, it will be because someone convinced him the franchise underwent a measurable change since he cleared out his locker a month ago.
After seven years of personal experience to the contrary, and a public image left in tatters, it’s a difficult bridge to cross. But the case is there for Griffin to make.
It’s just not an easy sell.
And while many fans will be reluctant to let Davis back in after he spurned them five months ago, it’s clear the Pelicans are better off keeping a proven first-team All-NBA talent rather than trade him in for a variety of upside-laden complementary pieces and future draft picks.
“I want Anthony Davis to want what we’re doing,” Griffin said. “I want Anthony Davis to want to be part of this.”
If Davis changes his mind, the arc of the Pelicans swings completely. It not only transforms them into immediate playoff contenders, but gags doubters in the national media, which spent Wednesday handwringing about Williamson getting marooned to the NBA wilderness.
The upside is obvious. The sales pitch is in place.
But, turning Davis around faces long odds and requires an unprecedented and immense effort. It’s a challenge Griffin claims he’s ready for, even after the lottery celebration subsided.
“This isn’t going to be about one conversation that takes place and he has to make a decision,” Griffin said. “This is about us getting better day after day and if he’s part of that, then wonderful. And if not, that’s okay too, we can help each other in that circumstance as well.”