Max Becherer/Associated Press
CHARLOTTE — In the second year of scheduling the NBA trade deadline before All-Star Weekend, the expectations were that transactional distractions would not overshadow the league’s marquee event.
Anthony Davis’ pre-deadline trade demand created an interesting precedent. Could the league hold its signature All-Star festivities without Davis’ desire to be traded to the Lakers getting in the way?
Saturday at the NBA All-Star media availability, all eyes shifted again to Davis, who was asked in a very public setting about his preferred trade destinations: Lakers, Knicks, Clippers, Bucks. Oh and the Celtics, too.
Wait, since when?
“I never said Boston wasn’t on my list,” Davis told reporters Saturday.
This, just a day after the Pelicans fired GM Dell Demps. So much for limiting the collateral damage.
“The timing’s odd,” a Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report. “I think [Demps] handled it well in terms of just being patient. I think the majority of us in front offices thought he did the right thing. There was no rush.”
Indeed, why should Demps have rushed to trade Davis to the Lakers when, in a few short months, the Celtics could come calling with an offer flush with draft picks, plus possibly Jayson Tatum?
Now it’s clearer than ever that’s a viable option. Demps could have also better bargained with the Knicks, who in July could come calling with, perhaps, No. 1 pick Zion Williamson and other assets?
“For them to fire him at this time is interesting,” the Western Conference exec said. “I guess they got frustrated with the way things were handled and the fact that he walked out of the arena.”
Turns out, the last straw for Temps’ tenure in New Orleans came Thursday night, when Davis hurt his shoulder in a collision and came out of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He then went to a local hospital for an MRI with his agent, which infuriated Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Benson fired Demps on Friday and installed former Hawks and Cavs GM Danny Ferry as his interim replacement. The team will hire a search firm to find a permanent replacement, league sources confirmed to B/R.
“As Alvin [Gentry, the Pelicans coach] put it, it’s a dumpster fire,” a prominent agent in the league told B/R. “It had to be the last straw, because obviously they had been thinking about firing him. You don’t fire someone over that incident alone.”
So to recap: Demps didn’t cave to the power play from James, Davis and their common agent to get the Pelicans’ All-Star shipped to the Lakers. And the Pelicans and Lakers have both suffered as a result, as half of James’ teammates have been dealing with hard feelings from seeing their names floated in trade possibilities.
Davis—whose status for the rest of the season was already a question mark—left the arena Thursday night to be examined outside the team’s medical protocols. And the next day, the GM was fired.
So much for off-court storylines no longer overshadowing All-Star Weekend.
“You can’t let agents dictate the law of the land right now; this is crazy,” the Western Conference exec said. “If [Demps] would’ve caved on that, you would’ve seen more of the top agents doing the power play. And that would be a big issue in our league.”
During Demps’ tenure, which began with the 2010-11 season, New Orleans made the playoffs three times and won one series. In 2014-15, then-coach Monty Williams was issued a playoff mandate with a team that hadn’t won more than 34 games in any of the past three seasons.
The Pelicans won 45 games, made the playoffs and got swept by the eventual champion Warriors in the first round. Demps fired Williams after the season anyway in a move that may well have doomed him and the franchise going forward.
On the flip side of that argument, Demps needed to be more creative than he was in putting winning pieces around Davis for the limited time that he had such a superstar on his roster. He wasn’t able to.
Despite the additions of Elfrid Payton (far left) and Julius Randle, GM Dell Demps saw the Pelicans parlay a 4-0 start dissolve in to a 26-33 mark by the All-Star break.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
“With small-market teams, you’ve got to be real creative,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “You’re not going to get the big stars [in free agency]. Your job was to get that team good now with him. Guys make all this money, but they want to win championships. They want to win now. AD sees LeBron and Kevin Durant moving around and winning championships, and he says, ‘I want to do that too.’”
The general consensus among rival front-office executives who spoke with B/R is that Demps was well-liked and tried to do the right thing. The general consensus also was a sense of surprise that Demps lasted as long as he did in the job.
Rachel Nichols, host of ESPN’s “The Jump,” chats with Howard Beck about the All-Star Game, the latest twists in the drama surrounding LeBron James and how small market teams can avoid the same fate as the Pelicans.
While no one could fault Demps for bringing in Jrue Holiday in 2013, the Pelicans also made their share of curious moves. Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore are capable complementary pieces, but when they help clog your cap without advancing your playoff hopes significantly, that’s a problem. Demps proved capable of building a playoff contender, but that only gets you to trade demands when free agency is visible in the distance.
“My first reaction was, ‘What took so long?’” one agent said.
But that’s beside the point. The question other agents and executives have to ask themselves is, “What do we do about the growing perceived power of Paul and his Klutch Sports Group?” And the question the NBA has to ask itself is, “Has player power grown to the point where we can no longer keep it from ruining our sacred All-Star Weekend and interfering with our sport?”
On the latter point, the evidence is already in.
Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA.