If you thought the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis predicament would quiet down after the NBA All-Star break and fade into the background of the playoff race, you were wrong.
The unfortunate situation is front and center with news that Davis will not play against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night in the second game of a back-to-back for the Pelicans.
Resting itself isn’t the issue. It’s all the connected pieces surrounding Davis’ situation that make this problematic.
Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, requested a trade before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, and the Lakers were among Davis’ preferred destinations, and by some accounts, the top team on his wish list.
GET MORE NBA: Exclusive content in our Click & Roll newsletter
PLAYOFF ROUNDTABLE: Will LeBron and the Lakers sneak in?
Paul also represents Lakers star LeBron James, who is on record saying he would like to play alongside all kinds of great players, Davis included.
The Lakers also happen to be in a fight just to get into the playoffs and need every victory they can get, including Saturday’s road game against New Orleans. The Lakers are in 10th place in the Western Conference, three games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers and a game behind the Sacramento Kings.
Beating the Pelicans without AD is a whole lot easier than beating the Pelicans with AD, who is one of top seven players in the league.
Even if sitting Davis against the Lakers is justified by the league’s player-resting policy, it’s a bad look for the NBA given the circumstances and people involved.
The Pelicans are in a no-win situation here. They don’t want to play Davis in general because if he gets injured in the final 22 games of the season, his trade value will plummet. And the biggest asset the Pelicans have is a healthy Davis and the value he can return in a trade. Truth be told, Davis’ representatives probably don’t want him playing either.
Even NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that if a star player didn’t want to sign an extension with his current team, “the team would be in position to get fair value for the player” in a trade.
New Orleans, which fired general manager Dell Demps on Feb. 15 and replaced him with interim GM Danny Ferry, wants to do everything it can to ensure it returns decent value for Davis when it trades him after the season. Making sure he is healthy is part of that, and while Davis does not have a major injury in his history, he’s had enough to sideline him for nearly 90 games in his NBA career.
But the Pelicans can’t shut him down for the remainder of the season either, per NBA rules on resting healthy players. The league sent the player-resting memo to teams before the start of the season in October. The NBA put the rules — which were approved by owners — in place to protect integrity and satisfy fans and league partners.
So, while New Orleans can’t bench Davis for every remaining game, they can sit him from time to time, such as the second game of a back-to-back. By the rules, the Pelicans have the right to sit him against the Lakers. It’s not a high-profile, nationally-televised game, and the Pelicans are resting Davis at home. Plus, if the Pelicans had any doubt about violating the policy, the team is instructed to contact the league office to discuss the situation.
There is a provision in the player-resting policy in which the commissioner can penalize a team for resting a healthy player “in circumstances that are, in the opinion of the Commissioner, prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA.”
Since Davis is out, it’s fair to believe the Pelicans made sure resting Davis against the Lakers tonight is fine. They don’t want to risk a fine.
But what do the Clippers and Kings think about this? Surely, since they’re in this playoff chase for the eighth seed, too, they would like to see New Orleans put its best product on the court against the Lakers. The Clippers and Pelicans don’t play each other any more this season, but the Kings still have two more games against New Orleans. Good bet they’d like to play the Pelicans with Davis on the bench.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry called it a team decision and said Davis’ night off has nothing to do with the opponent. Even so, it’s frustrating for the Pelicans, fans and the league.
Follow columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.