The New Orleans Pelicans are trying to look beyond the circus.
With Anthony Davis’ public trade request and subsequent reappearance in the starting lineup swallowing up all of the oxygen surrounding the organization, the rest of the Pelicans are trying to move forward despite still being tethered to the past.
Davis will play in each of the final two games leading into the All-Star break, according to coach Alvin Gentry, starting with Tuesday’s 7 p.m. tipoff against the Orlando Magic in the Smoothie King Center.
“There’s been nothing decided for the rest of the season,” Gentry said. “But he’ll play in the two games this week.”
So, how do the Pelicans develop young players like Frank Jackson, Jahlil Okafor, Kenrich Williams and Cheick Diallo when they’re still trying to win games and follow the NBA’s demands by playing Davis a full complement of minutes, like they did in Saturday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies?
It’s an admittedly challenging balance to strike, especially with Julius Randle back in the lineup and Elfrid Payton on the brink of returning as well.
“I think that’s the Catch 22 behind the whole thing,” Gentry said. “We want to win games but we also want to make sure we are getting a good look at some of the younger guys and getting them minutes on the court. I don’t see how you get better in this league without getting on the court and getting minutes and playing competitively against the guys you’re going to be facing.”
In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, when New Orleans was missing five of its six leading scorers, the blueprint for development was simple. All of the Pelicans’ young players filled the rotation around Jrue Holiday and charged a competitive, feisty, undermanned unit.
In between road wins at Houston and Chicago, those youthful Pelicans dropped close losses to the Nuggets, Pacers and Spurs, while drawing praise from Gentry for their work ethic and determination while lacking in seasoned talent.
Now, with the playoffs essentially out of reach, New Orleans is eschewing that setup and inserting the veterans back into the rotation. It has left some questioning why they’re not simply setting themselves up for the future instead.
“I understand that, but we are still trying to win,” Jrue Holiday said last week. “And having Anthony on our team and on the court is our best chance to win. I guess there’s a little give and take. But, if you want to develop guys then we can probably find different slots.
“I mean, they can have some of my minutes.”
But, for now, it doesn’t appear Davis’ minutes are going to drastically dissipate, despite openly telling the team he has no interest in being a part of its future.
“The (minutes are) going to increase, but it’s not going to be to the point where he’s playing 38 to 40 minutes per game,” Gentry said. “He’ll be in the 30s or somewhere like that but we aren’t going to play him those long stretches.”
So, how does the rest of the team get ample time to develop on the court when Davis, Holiday, Randle and Payton are still gobbling up so many available minutes?
It’s a question that can’t be answered at the moment. And it’s one Gentry likely doesn’t fully control, regardless of his position as head coach.
Instead, he’s just trying to forge past these bizarre circumstances and get back to just being a basketball coach, rather than serving as the franchise’s spokesman on the ongoing Davis saga.
“Everything is getting back to normal, or our new normal if you want to put it that way,” Gentry said. “I think we are in a position now where we are going to try to play basketball and do the best we can and try to play some young players and we are going to play Anthony.
“He wants to play, and we are going to play him, and we’ll see what happens.”