By Casey Gisclair
When the clock struck midnight on July 1, NBA executives scurried around the country on a full-court press to wine and dine the league’s top free agents in hopes of landing their signature on a high-dollar, multi-year contract.
While all that took place, New Orleans Pelicans’ General Manager Dell Demps and first-year coach Alvin Gentry stayed back and took care of their own.
Just a few minutes after midnight on the start of the free agency period, New Orleans announced that it had re-signed All-Everything power forward Anthony Davis to a five-year max extension that will keep the unibrowed standout in the Crescent City for the next half-decade.
Social media photos showed Davis, Demps, and Gentry enjoying dinner together to celebrate the occasion—one that was widely rejoiced by sports fans in Louisiana.
The contract will pay out $140 million to Davis, making him one of the highest paid athletes in American professional sports. And while it is a steep price to pay for any player, Davis is worth every penny.
With him locked down for the next five years, the Pelicans are now officially at the big-boy table around the NBA’s Western Conference. Now, the challenge shifts toward building the team around Davis and turning the Pelicans’ roster into a championship contender.
With Davis, the Pelicans will always be in the NBA title discussion. AD is a star player who will be one of the top five players in the league for the next 8-10 seasons. Offensively, he’s dominant. He possesses one of the best mid-range jumpers in the game, and his explosiveness makes him a load for opposing big men to deal with around the bucket.
This past season, Davis averaged 24 points per game and shot 53 percent. In the playoffs, he exceeded 25 points in all four games against the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors and shot greater than 50 percent in three of the four contests.
The best part is Davis is only 22 years old and will not be 23 for another nine months!
Under Gentry, it’s not unreasonable to expect Davis to expand his range and become even more versatile. In some leaked online footage of Davis’ summer workouts, the unibrowed big man has been working hard to add a corner three-pointer to his already impressive offensive arsenal.
If Davis can get that down, it’s a scary thought. That 24-point average can quickly balloon to 28 or 30.
But what I like most about Davis is his defensive potential. With long arms and elite athleticism, Davis is already one of the best shot blockers in basketball. Once he adds about 10-15 pounds to his frame in the future, he can be even better and be that defensive rock on the interior opposing teams fear when they push the ball toward New Orleans’ basket.
So with all of those amazing attributes in Demps’ basket for the next several seasons, it is time to build around that foundation.
That’ll be a bit more of a challenge.
The Pelicans don’t have a ton of salary cap flexibility. In fact, with the re-signing of Omer Asik at a hefty, high-dollar price, the team is just about capped out for the rest of the 2015 offseason.
There is light at the end of the tunnel in the future, as Eric Gordon’s contract comes off the books after next season. That’ll free up some space, but not enough to make a huge dent—especially when one considers that the salary cap will increase drastically before the 2016-17 season.
A lot of Demps’ wizardry will have to take place via trade and/or shrewd acquisitions. The Pelicans need role players to fix a bench that was one of the least efficient in the NBA this past season. At some point down the road, they may also need to decide between guards Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday—both of whom enjoy having the ball in offensive sets.
Likewise, if Gordon’s money is soon off the books, where will it go?
There are lots of unanswered questions, and the majority of this story will be played out in the future. But with Davis’ commitment and buy-in, all things are possible.
July 1, 2015, is a day that should be remembered by basketball fans in our state. It’s the day that the Pelicans became an annual playoff contender for the next several years to come.
It is time to see the “Kingdom of the Brow” grow and prosper so that titles can be won.