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Lakers' Anthony Davis prepared for cold reception in New Orleans: 'There are probably going to be boos'

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 11/26/2019 Mark Medina, USA TODAY
a man holding a basketball: Anthony Davis spent his first seven seasons with the Pelicans. © Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports Anthony Davis spent his first seven seasons with the Pelicans.

SAN ANTONIO — For the past 1½ months, Anthony Davis has heard mostly cheers as he throws down lobs and stuffs opponents at the rim. When the Los Angeles Lakers play the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, however, Davis predicted he will hear a different sound.

"Every time I touch the ball, there are probably going to be boos," Davis said Monday following the Lakers’ 114-104 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

And why wouldn’t he expect boos?

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Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, publicly demanded the Pelicans trade Davis last January after feeling frustrated with two early playoff exits and five missed postseason appearances. The Lakers failed to acquire Davis before the trade deadline in February. So, Davis then sat a combined 12 games for rest, personal reasons and to treat back spasms. At the Pelicans’ regular-season home finale, Davis even wore a T-shirt that quoted the Looney Toons’ sign-off: "That’s all folks."

Should those incidents have been handled differently? New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry admitted, "I’m sure it could have." Davis, who did not plan to re-sign with the Pelicans once he became a free agent in 2020, hardly sounded concerned about the fallout.

"It was definitely a tough thing to do," Davis said. "But it's something I felt like I needed to do."

Davis does not have regrets for a simple reason. After replacing Dell Demps with David Griffin in their front office, the Pelicans eventually granted Davis’ wishes. The Pelicans dealt Davis to the Lakers in June for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks, including their No. 4 selection. The Lakers (15-2) own the NBA’s best record, while Davis is averaging 25.8 points on 48.2% shooting with 8.8 rebounds. The Pelicans (6-11) are likely to miss the playoffs partly because rookie Zion Williamson has not played yet because of a right knee injury. 

"AD is a great kid. You’re not going to get me to say anything bad about AD," Gentry told USA TODAY Sports. "He wanted to be traded. He had the right to ask for it. That’s it. There’s nothing else there."

That explains why Gentry chalked up Davis’ return as just "a freaking basketball game." Lakers coach Frank Vogel and his players also attempted to downplay the game’s significance with various clichés. Vogel even wrote on his whiteboard "to stay in the moment." The Lakers showed mixed progress as the Spurs held a 56-54 halftime lead. But then the Lakers took over the game because of LeBron James (33 points, 14 assists) and Davis (19 points, 12 rebounds).

Who is anyone kidding, though? It would not be surprising if the Pelicans play a tribute video for Davis after averaging 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks through seven seasons in New Orleans. Perhaps that video only sparks more boos. Either way, Vogel admitted, "the guys are going to want to get that win for AD."

To ensure that happens, Davis has leaned on a trusted and accomplished teammate. Not only can James help set Davis up inside or force defenses to choose between defending two stars. James has given Davis perspective on how to handle playing against a former team after a hasty departure. After infamously declaring he would "take my talents to South Beach," James faced a hostile Cleveland crowd on Dec. 2, 2010. Despite the boos, James still had 38 points on 15-of-25 shooting along with eight assists for the Miami Heat. Davis also noted Pelicans fans booed him when he played following his trade request.

"The greatest thing is when you finally get on the floor and that ball tips up," James said. "There’s nothing but strictly basketball. Everything else doesn’t matter at that point."

Still, Davis admitted plenty of things matter to him before Wednesday’s game. He predicted the game is "going to be fun." He added, "I have a lot of love for the city" because of both friends and family ties and community projects.

"I had a great time. I think a lot of people there know that," Davis said. "The rest are fans of the Pelicans. I understand why they feel that way. But it’s all love on my end."

Davis still expressed some frustration, though. Only two years ago, the Pelicans were considered a championship contender with Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday. Midway through the season, though, Cousins suffered a torn Achilles tendon and the Pelicans lost to Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals. Cousins did not get the financial security he sought from the Pelicans, prompting him to sign with the Warriors the following season. That triggered Davis to contemplate his future with New Orleans.

"We can only imagine what we could have done. Me and him were definitely a force to reckoned with," said Davis. "We could have made a run at something special."

So far, Davis has made something special with the Lakers. Despite shooting only 7-of-19 from the field against San Antonio, Davis impressed the Lakers by excelling on hustle plays on both ends. As James said, "great players don’t rely on shot-making to make an impact on the game." Vogel added, "that’s the beauty of Anthony Davis."

"I don’t want to say there were pleasant surprises," Vogel said. "We knew coming in, he was a great, great player."

Still, Davis has relied on his talent while mastering the nuances. Vogel has been increasingly impressed with how Davis has thrived in his rim protection, floor spacing and setting screens. Davis’ teammates like how he holds himself as equally accountable as them.

"It’s going to help times when adversity hits," Davis said. "So, we got to make sure that we stay together and stay locked in and continue to do what we’re doing."

Therefore, the Lakers plan to help Davis face his former team. They suspect they will not need to help him much, though.

"I’m here to play basketball," Davis said. "We came out with a great start. We’re all here to do what we have to do to win games. We know what our main goal is with the big picture."

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lakers' Anthony Davis prepared for cold reception in New Orleans: 'There are probably going to be boos'

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