It was a hypothetical question that yielded a definitive answer: If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any NBA player, who would it be?
According to the 2015-16 NBA.com GM Survey published before last season, that player would be Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans, who received 86.2 percent of the vote from the league’s general managers. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, the overwhelming choice the previous season, and Kevin Durant, then of the Oklahoma City Thunder, tied for second place with 6.9 percent each.
The recognition for Davis came on the heels of a brilliant 2014-15 season in which he led the Pelicans to the playoffs and earned All-NBA First Team honors. With his rare combination of size, skill and mobility, the 6-11 power forward looked poised to deliver on his unofficial title as the NBA’s next thing and lift New Orleans to greater heights.
Instead, Davis appeared in a career-low 61 games in 2015-16 as the Pelicans dropped from 45 wins to 30 in a season marred by injuries. While his production – 24.3 points (seventh in the NBA), 10.3 rebounds (ninth) and 2.05 blocks (fourth) – remained stellar and led to his third All-Star selection in four seasons, he was ruled out for the remainder of the season on March 20 with knee and shoulder injuries.
Davis, 23, is excited to leave last season behind and chart a new course for the Pelicans, who will take on the Houston Rockets in two preseason games, on Oct. 9 in Shanghai and Oct. 12 in Beijing, in the 10th edition of NBA Global Games China presented by Master Kong.
“I feel the urgency,” Davis said. “There is nothing like a playoff atmosphere. I’m eager to get back into that position. The whole organization is. The city is. That’s what we’re preparing for.”
The Pelicans will look to regroup with a largely different supporting cast now that Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon have joined the Rockets. New Orleans signed forwards Solomon Hill and Terrence Jones and guards E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway and Lance Stephenson. The Pelicans also re-signed guard Tim Frazier, a late-season addition in 2015-16, and selected NCAA Player of the Year Buddy Hield with the sixth overall pick of NBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm.
Davis praised general manager Dell Demps and head coach Alvin Gentry for the offseason additions, viewing the newcomers as nice fits for a team that prioritized toughness and defensive improvement. The top summer objective, of course, was getting Davis healthy.
“This offseason was important, just for me to get back out on the floor,” Davis said.
“From there, then it’s about withstanding an entire season without missing games. Stuff happens. You can’t always control what happens. Stuff that I can control, I want to control.”
Gentry, who is in his second season with the Pelicans, was impressed with Davis’ spirit last season.
“The thing I love about Anthony is that he came out every night and really competed even when things weren’t going our way,” Gentry said. “I thought he had a great year. I think he’ll have an even better year this year.”
Now in his fifth season, Davis has grown comfortable with his role as the team’s unquestioned leader.
“He realizes, more so than ever, that this is his team,” Gentry said. “He’s the leader, and the players accept him as that. He’s more of a vocal leader now.”
Vocal and comfortable in his surroundings.
“I love it here [in New Orleans],” Davis said. “I guess I sort of fall into that old-school category where I’d like to win it here, where I started my career. That’s always been a goal.”
Hitting the reset button can be a tricky thing in the NBA.
Thankfully for the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s a lot more forgiving when the player at the center of the reconfiguration is Anthony Davis.
Few players are able to affect a game as much as Davis, 23, an All-NBA First Team selection in 2014-15 and a 6-foot-10 power forward with career averages of 20.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in four seasons. In the 2015-16 NBA.com GM Survey, 86.2 percent of the league’s general managers picked Davis as the player with whom they would start a franchise.
What Davis, head coach Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans learned last season is that a team is only as good as the sum and health of its parts. With Davis appearing in a career-low 61 games and the rest of the team battling injuries, New Orleans dipped to 30 victories after winning 45 games the previous season and making the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
After a last-place finish in the Southwest Division, New Orleans general manager Dell Demps set out to complement Davis with young, versatile players who could not only contribute on offense but also shore up a defense that ranked 28th in the NBA in points allowed per possession last season. The Pelicans will show off their remade roster when they play the Houston Rockets on Oct. 9 in Shanghai and on Oct. 12 in Beijing for NBA Global Games China 2016 presented by Master Kong.
In the matchups against Houston, the Pelicans will face two of their best players from last season: forward Ryan Anderson and guard Eric Gordon. To help offset those free-agent losses, the Pelicans signed forward Solomon Hill and guards E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway.
The biggest splash came with the signing of Hill, the 23rd pick in NBA Draft 2013 presented by State Farm, who spent his first three seasons with the Indiana Pacers. New Orleans coveted the 25-year-old forward’s defensive aggression, ability to fit in head coach Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo system and potential to stretch the floor as his perimeter shooting improves.
Meanwhile, Moore and Galloway bolster the backcourt. Moore, 27, is coming off a career season with the Chicago Bulls in which he averaged 7.5 points on a career-high 48.1 percent shooting, including 45.2 percent from three-point range. Galloway, an undrafted 24-year-old combo guard, began his career with the Westchester Knicks of the NBA Development League before using his solid all-around skills to earn a call-up with the New York Knicks. Galloway will compete for playing time with another NBA D-League alum, 25-year-old guard Tim Frazier, who averaged 13.1 points and 7.5 assists in 16 games for New Orleans last season after signing in March.
Add free-agent signees Lance Stephenson and Terrence Jones (a former Rocket) as well as 2016 draft picks Buddy Hield (No. 6 overall) and Cheick Diallo (No. 33), and the Pelicans have a dramatically different cast of players to support Davis, 2013 All-Star Jrue Holiday and 2009-10 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans.
“We have a lot of guys who made it the hard way – guys who had to grind it out to get here,” Demps said. “I think our fans are really going to appreciate that about this team.”
Davis says the Pelicans want to emulate the 2015-16 Boston Celtics, a deep, hard-nosed team that went 48-34 and reached the playoffs.
“A lot of [the Pelicans’ newcomers] got offers everywhere else, but they decided to come here,” Davis said. “When they put that uniform on, they know what we’re about. Guys have a blue-collar mentality where they’re going to come in and work and try to win. We’re not going to accept anything less.”