Anthony Davis' Long-Term Greatness Being Jeopardized by Short-Sighted Hornets

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 28, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 11:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Hornets makes a free throw shot against the Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Arena on January 11, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Hornets sure seem proud that they’re being so cautious with Anthony Davis. 

Hornets coach Monty Williams has held Davis out twice—once because of his knee, once because of his shoulder—in a three-game span because of minor injuries.

Even though Davis’ shoulder was deemed fine by medical personnel and he was cleared to return to what was a close loss against Brooklyn on Tuesday, he did not return. He sprained his knee vs. Dallas the previous Friday, and although he was back on the bench and fine to return in that fourth quarter, Williams again kept him out of what was also a close loss.

“These guys mean a lot to me,” Williams told the Times-Picayune after the loss to Brooklyn. “And when I see guys hurting in that way, I have to err on the side of caution. I’ll talk to the doctors and trainers and find out, but when a guy is holding a shoulder like that, I’ve got to hold him out. They told me he could go back in, but I decided not to put him back out there.”

Cautious, conservative, careful…

More like coddling.

It’s not just Williams and the Hornets. Far too often these days, NBA players just don’t clock in because they have some pain or discomfort. And what we’re going to end up with eventually is a league even more devoid of true gamers than we have now.

With the Lakers, 30-something warriors Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash wonder why younger star Dwight Howard is so unable to understand how to handle his body when it’s not 100 percent—Bryant eventually concluding that Howard simply hasn’t had the sort of injuries through which to fight.

Howard has been uncommonly healthy throughout his career. But other younger stars are brought along the way Davis is now in New Orleans—too carefully. They are taught that it’s fine not to test your limits and find out what you can do when it hurts, even if it won’t cause further injury.

Whatever Davis gained in seeing Bryant and other tough-minded stars during the Olympics over the summer is being offset by the Hornets babying him. Forget whether the Hornets could’ve beaten the Mavs or Nets in those games; at the very least, Davis would’ve learned to compete in a meaningful way at less than his best—and win or lose, he would’ve grown from that experience.

The Hornets’ record this season is largely pointless, and they probably don’t even want to win games now for lottery positioning, but it is sadly sending the wrong message to Davis about how to go about his business. The right way to think as a superstar is that it’s your job to play and play right every night—and it’ll be a true badge of honor if you can do all 82.

Davis isn’t even 20 yet—his birthday coming March 11—and is just a rookie. The Hornets also have frontcourt depth in Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez and Jason Smith to cover for Davis whenever they give him time off…which has been often this season.

Davis is not even averaging 30 minutes per game, has missed 14 games and has missed plenty of developmental opportunities, another one passing by Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

Even though he was medically cleared to play the previous game, the Hornets held Davis out again as a precaution. So instead of seeing up close what a potential championship team is like when taking care of business at an elite level—and Davis being challenged to try and reach that, if only briefly—Davis stayed back in New Orleans, as far from the action as could be on what turned out to be one of the most exciting nights of the NBA season.

Anderson made his three 3-pointers, Oklahoma City did its thing, and the Hornets mailed in a 45-point loss. (Eric Gordon also sat out the game as a precaution, but at least there is some medical basis for being preventative with someone as injury-prone as Gordon.)

The complete annihilation in OKC was no surprise. Why should any of the Hornets try if their coach and management aren’t going to try?

And that’s the real cost here for Davis, who is being raised in an environment lacking in its pursuit of excellence—whether team or individual. The Hornets have newfound stability from Tom Benson buying the team in April, and if their goal is to be no more than OK, then this is exactly the way to go about it.

Williams has proved already to be an excellent coach in other ways, which only makes this more unfortunate.

I spent a controversial second-place vote for NBA Coach of the Year on Williams—behind Gregg Popovich, ahead of Tom Thibodeau—for his amazing work making the Hornets pretty respectable last season when they should’ve been one of the worst teams in the league. What a job done by Williams then for a team lacking in stability.

But right now, the new stability has become a comfort zone…and comfort zones do not inspire greatness.

Davis has gone from one world with Team USA’s professionals to amateur hour in New Orleans.

The way he is being encouraged to approach this season will bleed into the next one and the next one, and it will infect the entire way he approaches a career that should be a great one for this league and this sport. Being so safe with Davis now seems like a good idea on the surface to give him that long career, but it’s the easy way out.

As a parent, just because you’re busy or it’s safer, do you take the easy way out when it comes to pushing your kid to do the right thing, the better thing and the greater thing?

Well, maybe in today’s society a lot of parents do—and that’s another massive problem, isn’t it?

Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.