METAIRIE, La. (AP) — When the Pelicans finished practice on Thursday, Anthony Davis went into coach Alvin Gentry’s office, followed later by interim general manager Danny Ferry.
As they spoke, privacy shades on windows that otherwise offer a view of practice courts were pulled down.
After the meeting, Gentry said Davis was slated to start at Indiana on Friday night. Later, Ferry said Davis, if healthy, would continue to play for the Pelicans — albeit in a scaled-back role.
“League rules made it clear that Anthony has to play,” Ferry said on a conference call with New Orleans reporters on Thursday night. “As we’ve done previously, we’ll continue to follow their lead. But we’ll also be focused on the future of the team. Therefore, you’ll see a reduction in Anthony’s minutes.”
That reduction could even mean sitting out Davis entirely for certain games, such as when the Pelicans are at home, not on national television and playing for the second time in two nights. That will be the case on Saturday night, when New Orleans hosts LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
But it was not immediately clear on Thursday night whether the Pelicans had already decided to scratch Davis against the Lakers.
“He’s playing the game tomorrow,” Gentry said Thursday. “Let’s get to that one and then we can worry about everything else.”
Davis, who is represented by the same agent as James, has requested a trade. The Lakers tried to acquire Davis before this season’s Feb. 7 trade deadline, but the Pelicans declined to move him, opting instead to wait until the offseason, when more will be known about draft slots and more teams can make concrete offers.
NBA rules forbid clubs from resting healthy players in ways deemed detrimental to the league, particularly for nationally televised games and road games.
So the Pelicans are trying to comply with those rules during their final 23 games while also planning for a future without Davis.
“Make no mistake. We’re going to be focused on competing every night for the remainder of the games,” Ferry said. “It’s important to have a competitive effort; this is the best way to evaluate the players.”
Ferry said he also clarified the club’s plans because he wanted to create “a better and more positive environment for guys like Alvin and some of the players. This has obviously been a challenge lately.”
Indeed, Gentry characterized the ongoing saga the strangest episode he has been a part of “in my life.”
The game at Indiana will be the Pelicans’ first since they fired general manager Dell Demps on Friday and appointed Ferry as his interim replacement. Gentry, who was hired by Demps to coach a team built around Davis, said he’d like to continue coaching New Orleans under the next general manager, whatever the vision for the roster may be.
“I love New Orleans. I like being here,” Gentry said. “I love my job and I’d like to be here a long time.”
Gentry also said he retains “a ton of respect” for Demps.
“I wouldn’t be here without Dell,” Gentry said. “We worked well together and I appreciate what he did for me.”
Based on the philosophy expressed in the past by Pelicans upper management, the next general manager will have the freedom to pick a new coach.
Gentry sounded resigned to the possibility that his tenure here might not last beyond this season. The Pelicans are emerging from the All-Star break with a 26-33 record, six games out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. This is Gentry’s fourth season, and New Orleans’ only playoff berth since his hiring came last season.
“What I’m going to concentrate on is 23 more games and to have them try to play at a real high level and compete at a real high level, find out a little bit about our younger guys,” Gentry said. “As a coach, you’ve got to try to get your guys to see if they can focus on the task at hand, and that’s playing basketball games — and you know it’s not easy to do with some of the things that’s going on right now. That’s asking a lot out of anybody with the way things have been. But that’s what we’re here to do.”
Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor, who was the only player to speak with reporters after practice, insisted that he and his teammates were not bothered by Davis’ continued presence in the lineup.
“It’s normal for us. That’s a credit to AD. He’s such a great person — he’s such a great teammate — that we love having him around,” Okafor said. “I think everybody here selfishly would like him to stay. But at the end of the day, we want him to be happy and we want what’s best for him. But it isn’t awkward for us at all.”
Notes: Gentry said guard Elfrid Payton, who has missed New Orleans’ last nine games before the All-Star break with a right ankle sprain, is expected to start at Indiana.