By Andrew Donlan
CHARLOTTE, N.C.– Anthony Davis, a current member of the New Orleans Pelicans, mostly fielded questions regarding what team he’d play for in the future at All-Star media day on Saturday.
Celtics fans rejoiced when Davis said that Boston was on his list.
“They were never not on my list,” Davis said.
Davis later said that all 29 other cities were on his list, but most NBA teams know better than to think they have a chance in the sweepstakes. Either they can’t keep him long term, or they know that they don’t have the trade pieces to acquire him before he becomes a free agent.
For fans of a few franchises, they can still dream of one day watching Davis suit up in their favorite team’s uniform. The Pelicans, who Davis insisted he’d play for during the remainder of the season, have a bleaker road ahead. Davis said he still hadn’t thought much about his final day with the franchise, but will express his gratitude when the time comes.
“I’ll always have love for the city of New Orleans,” Davis said. “When that time comes, I’ll have a heartwarming message for them, and you know, put it out on Instagram.”
A farewell message on Instagram and a distant love for the city won’t help Pelicans fans get over the fact that the superstar they once thought would save the franchise is leaving for brighter lights and a bigger city.
It’s a harsh reality, and one that’s all too familiar to other franchises around the league that have lost beloved stars to a bigger market in an era of increased player mobility.
The Denver Nuggets are aware. They lost Carmelo Anthony in 2011 after falling short of a NBA finals appearance for eight years with the help of the former scoring champion.
Despite the legitimate concern that superstars will eventually all land in major markets, all hope is not lost. Juxtaposed with the Pelicans downfall is a Nuggets team with new faces, two games out of first place in the Western Conference. Coach Mike Malone will lead Team LeBron in the All-Star game on Sunday, and front office members were just rewarded with contract extensions heading into the break.
“For me, I never think small market or big market,” Malone said. “When I go to work everyday, I’m not thinking about— am I in Denver or New York City? I’ve got a job to do, I do my job, our staff does their job. I look in my four years what we’ve been able to build. First year— not many sellouts, not a lot of excitement about our team. Now you look at our arena, there are sellouts every night. There’s a buzz in our city about the Denver Nuggets. That’s special, when you can take it from the ground up and build it to what it’s been. And we still gave a long ways to go. We know we’re not New York City, Miami, L.A., Chicago. But we feel in Denver we have a lot to offer.”
While Davis flirted with the idea of playing in L.A., Boston, or New York, Malone and Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer were sequestered to the side of Charlotte’s Bojangles Coliseum to answer questions. Budenholzer will be in charge of Team Giannis on Sunday. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Budenholzer have led the Bucks to the best record in the league thus far. For now, all signs point to optimism for the future of the franchise, with their own superstar at the helm.
“I think there is pride in winning wherever you are, in our case in a small market,” Budenholzer said. “And taking players that particularly have been drafted to your organization, and helping them grow and develop and adding to it wherever opportunities there are. There’s lots of different ways to win in our league, and we certainly feel like places like Denver and Milwaukee are places you can win.”
As the ostensibly long list of teams Davis is willing to play for dwindles and is ultimately finalized, Pelicans fans will be forced to relive the anguish that is losing their franchise player.
If they’re searching for solace, they should look in the corner, or perhaps the top of the standings. There they’d find Malone and Budenholzer, the Denver Nuggets and the Milwaukee Bucks. They’ve found a blueprint for small market success that looks stable for years to come.