Anthony Davis Returns, Drops 32 in Win vs. T-Wolves After Trade Deadline Rumors

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - FEBRUARY 08: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks over Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half at the Smoothie King Center on February 08, 2019 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The return of Anthony Davis to the lineup Friday carried the New Orleans Pelicans to a 122-117 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

After sitting out the previous nine games with a sprained left finger and awaiting resolution to his trade request, Davis was given a chilly reception from fans at the Smoothie King Center. 

Davis was able to compartmentalize that reaction to finish with 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes. He didn't play at all in the fourth quarter. Jrue Holiday added 27 points and dished out nine assists. 

Karl-Anthony Towns matched Davis' total of 32 points in defeat. The Timberwolves star also had eight rebounds and three assists. Andrew Wiggins posted his first double-double since Jan. 25 with 23 points and 10 rebounds. 

Anthony Davis' Dominant Return Underscores Need for Trade to Contender

The reaction from Pelicans fans toward Davis is easy to understand, though their anger is aimed in the wrong direction. 

Davis is in his seventh season in New Orleans. The franchise has won one playoff series in two postseason appearances since he arrived in 2012-13. He was an unstoppable force Friday night despite not playing a game in three weeks. 

The Pelicans have never figured out how to build a roster around Davis to help them join the Western Conference's elite teams. They let players like Eric Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins leave as free agents coming off injury-plagued seasons. 

Perhaps because the Pelicans were often unable to reel in top-tier free agents, general manager Dell Demps fell into the habit of giving big-money contracts to players whose performance doesn't justify that kind of investment. 

After averaging 6.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in three seasons as a reserve for the Indiana Pacers, Solomon Hill received a four-year deal worth $48 million in July 2016. 

Signing Hill came after New Orleans gave Omer Asik $60 million over five years the previous summer. Asik has played a total of 117 games since signing that contract, though the Pelicans were able to unload him in a February 2018 trade with the Chicago Bulls. 

Since the Pelicans aren't a free-agent destination, building through the draft would seem vital to their success. The last first-round pick they made was Buddy Hield in 2016. He was flipped to the Sacramento Kings in February 2017 as part of the Cousins trade. 

Davis is the most recent first-round draft pick made by the Pelicans who is still on their roster. 

After his trade request became public last month, Davis told reporters Feb. 1 he wants to maximize his talent for a team capable of winning a championship. 

"You don't know how long you'll play this game," Davis said. "Feel like I'm in my prime and playing at an elite level. I want to take advantage of that."

Friday was a perfect illustration of what the Pelicans are going to be at their best as presently constructed. Davis is unguardable when he's playing at full strength. Holiday is the perfect complementary piece with his ability to score and get Davis the ball in the post. 

But even though the Pelicans put Davis back in the lineup, his lack of minutes—particularly in the fourth quarter when the game was close—seems to indicate the team doesn't really want to have him out there. 

Players are always going to come off as the bad guy when they request a trade from their team, but the Pelicans have failed Davis during his time with the franchise. He has been one of the NBA's elite players for seven seasons with nothing to show for it. 

In this era of sports, when players are often defined by their legacy and how many championships they won, Davis is at an age where he needs to start thinking about doing what's in his best interest. 

Securing a trade to a contender, presumably this summer, is the only way for Davis' time in New Orleans to end. It will allow the franchise to get a fresh start with potentially multiple pieces in place to stay afloat in the Western Conference while also adding draft picks to fill out a roster the way they've never been able to with Davis.

       

What's Next?

The Timberwolves will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday at 8 p.m. ET. The Pelicans will go on the road to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. 

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