PLAYING HURT: Pelicans Had to Save Anthony Davis From Himself


He has posted historically incredible numbers along the way, but Anthony Davis’ fragility throughout the first four seasons of his NBA / New Orleans Pelicans career is impossible to refute.

He has missed 55 games since coming into the league in the 2012-2013 season. In addition to the plethora of injuries that caused those DNPs and the left knee injury that will keep him out of this season’s 13 remaining games, it has come to the attention of everyone outside of the Pelicans organization that Davis has been battling something else for quite some time:

The labrum is, for those who do not know, “a piece of fibrocartilage (rubbery tissue) attached to the rim of the shoulder socket that helps keep the ball of the joint in place,” according to John Hopkins Medicine.

Though Davis claims that the issue in his left shoulder gradually worsened, the nature of the injury means the shoulder was relatively unstable from the very beginning. So why did he continue to play?

That is the question everyone is currently trying to answer.

Before attempting to answer myself, I think it is important to note that the question should be not be directed towards the Pelicans organization (which was reportedly aware of the injury), or Davis himself (who was definitely aware of the injury): it must be asked to both.

The Pelicans’ “win now” mentality has been under heavy scrutiny for most of Davis’ career, and the intensity of the criticism facing the organization has increased ten-fold since the unveiling of the torn labrum. It doesn’t take shining a bright spotlight to see that risking the long-term health of a young superstar for just a few more wins is not only incredibly dangerous but extremely short-sighted as well.

Feb 4, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) dunks against the Los Angeles Lakers during a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Lakers defeated the Pelicans 99-96. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The population on this island may be dwindling, but I still do not believe that Pelicans management is incompetent (at the very least, Mr. Benson is as able as ever!) They were very much aware of the risks, but they ultimately let Davis continue to play.

Not because they wanted just a few more ticks in the win column.

Not because they were desperate for a playoff berth.

But because Anthony Davis wanted to.

Whether or not the franchise should have allowed Davis to influence the decision is certainly a debate in and of itself, but I ultimately believe that this is what happened.

Despite the cautions of the medical staff and potentially the wishes of management Anthony Davis wanted to play, so he went out and played.

So why would Davis put himself in harm’s way?

His pursuit of fulfilling the Rose Rule would appear to be the simplest answer, but that possibility was shot down by the big man himself. If money was the motivation, he likely would not have given up with $24 million in his sights.

I believe the “win-now” mentality instilled by management is at the root of Davis’ decision making, though not for the reasons I outlined before.

Jan 25, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and head coach Monty Williams during a game against the Dallas Mavericks at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Mavericks 109-106. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Davis played to preserve Monty Williams’ head coaching job.

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  • Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical tweeted after the Pelicans had clinched a playoff berth last season, that Monty Williams and Dell Demps were dealt a playoff-or-bust stipulation in the preseason that they had fulfilled. The legitimacy of this report has been called into question since then, but I think Davis’ MVP-caliber 2014-15 campaign was fueled by the knowledge of that quota.

    Monty formed tight relationships with many players during his tenure in New Orleans, but he likely spent more time with Davis than any other. Between three full NBA seasons and an extra summer with Team USA, the duo knew each other well.

    Is it that crazy to believe that Davis wanted to save the job of the man who had nurtured his growth in becoming not only one of the NBA’s rising stars, but one of their most respectable figures?

    I certainly don’t think so.

    Oct 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) talks with guard Tyreke Evans (1) and guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the second half of a preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Thunder 120-86. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    Davis did not want to let Williams down. In the end, the effort did not matter anyway.

    But instead of getting frustrated at management like other NBA players might have done, what did he do? He worked toward fulfilling the expectations of his next coach, who believed in him before he had even reached New Orleans.

    A mountain of injuries, some of which his own, prevented Davis from meeting his goal yet again this season. On the surface, it looks down right preposterous that a player with a ceiling as high and a future as bright as Davis’ would risk his health for short term goals. That could very well be the case.

    But what’s done is done.

    And in the end, the Pelicans had to save Davis from himself.

    Davis is finally having corrective surgery and should be 100% by the start of next season. The beginning of his career has been an insane combination of extraordinary achievement and egregious disappointment.

    Anthony Davis possesses an inordinate amount of basketball talent and an equally impressive dedication to those around him.

    Next season is an opportunity to start fresh, with a clean bill of health for the first time since his rookie season. He and this team have gone through a lot already, and have hopefully learned a lot along the way.

    With a healthy Davis at the helm, the Pelicans will hopefully — and perhaps finally — be able to “take flight” into contention……