Anthony Davis learning to embrace leadership role with Pelicans

With the Pelicans facing a tough season ahead, the leadership of Anthony Davis will be needed more than ever. By all early indications, Davis is relishing in the opportunity. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Pelicans were losing, as they did more often than not last season, and Anthony Davis wasn't happy about it.

Davis had already been relegated to a suit and the sidelines thanks to a season-ending knee procedure and thus was unable to help save the day. Yet when a timeout was called, Tim Frazier, a point guard who had just been plucked out of the D-League to help plug the team's many holes, still looked to the superstar expectantly.

"AD, are you gonna say something?" Frazier, by the expression on his face, seemed to be asking Davis.

It caught the 23-year-old All-Star by surprise.

"I was like, 'Oh, s---" Davis said at Friday's media day, with Frazier nodding in the back of the room in agreement. "I wasn't expecting to say nothin'. But it shows you these guys look up and look forward to me saying stuff, because they want to follow, they want to be a part of something special. I'll always remember that. That was eye-opening."

With Chris Paul long gone by the time he was drafted in 2012 after his freshman season at Kentucky, Davis was immediately anointed the face of the franchise. The instantaneous burden, he admits now, was a difficult adjustment.

"I think when I first got here, guys were like, 'All right. You're the guy,'" Davis said. "I'm only 19 years old as a rookie. It was tough."

Even last season, Davis, the youngest player on the roster during his first four seasons in New Orleans, would often lean on Kendrick Perkins, a 13-year veteran with title experience who was signed in large part to serve as the budding star's on-court mentor.

Now entering his fifth season -- and facing the very real possibility of being left outside of the postseason field for a fourth time -- teammates and Pelicans brass agree Davis is embracing the role as team leader like never before.

"I think he realizes more so than anything now that this is his team and that he's the leader of this team," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. "All the players accept him as that. I told everyone last year that you're talking about a 23-year-old kid that you want to be the leader of the team, but he's grown so much over the summer. I think that he's more of a vocal leader now. We have conversations all the time, and we text back and forth all the time this summer, from a standpoint of, leadership-wise, what he should do and how he should advance in that area right there, especially with the new guys."

Davis said he gave his input over the summer on potential free agents when asked, but he really sprang into action once the retooled roster had officially been assembled, including helping to set up unofficial team workouts in Los Angeles.

"For being as young as he is, it's crazy to see him reach out as much as he does," said Solomon Hill, who signed a four-year, $48 million deal in the offseason. "Like when we were in L.A., he had things set up. He had things for us available to do. Even here now, he's getting the team together. That's something different for being a young guy. You see that from most older guys in the league that say something like, 'Coach told me to do this.'"

A flair for logistics and management will come in handy this season. While Pelicans general manager Dell Demps reiterated his satisfaction with the team's free-agent face lift -- which focused primarily on swapping high-profile scorers such as Ryan Anderson for self-made grinders like Hill to finally fix a defense that has been in the bottom 10 throughout Davis' tenure -- expectations were strikingly tempered. Unlike last year's media day, when New Orleans strutted into training camp as the NBA's new chic outpost, the message this time centered around an attention to detail.

Demps, consciously or not, even evoked Sam Hinkie by turning to the deposed Philadelphia 76ers GM's now-infamous refrain.

"All teams in the Western Conference right now are setting goals to get to the playoffs," Demps said. "I think right now what we're going to focus on is the process. And that process is our daily work, focusing on our defense, making sure we're doing the right things. We're playing hard, we're playing smart and we're playing the right way."

Gentry's list of team priorities -- the top three, in order: playing "blue-collar desperate"; being the "best-conditioned team"; and playing unselfishly -- had a decidedly back-to-basics feel. Davis admitted a need to find ways to overcome a lack of talent.

"It's not about having the most talent -- this guy averaged this or that," Davis said. "It's about what he can bring to the table to help our team. And all these guys bring something to the table. We want to be kind of like how Boston was last year: not having a lot of talent, but them guys play hard. That's how they were able to win games. That's what we want. That's what we brought it and that's what we look forward to."

With the Pelicans pushing the process to the forefront, it is an encouraging sign for a franchise that in the past has prioritized quick results. But the team's immediate future, and whether or not this current regime gets to reap the benefits of a long-term approach, likely rests not on playing like the Celtics, a team celebrated for its constructive ecosystem, but what the Celtics have worked tireless over the past years to acquire: a superstar in the prime of his career.

Such a predicament is a tall task, even for a 6-foot-10 condor who can drain jump shots. But at least from the outset, Davis, who is locked in for at least four more seasons in New Orleans, appears to be fully embracing all the expectations and burdens that come with his station.

"I love it here," Davis said. "I don't plan on leaving. I guess I fit into that old-school category where I try to win it here where I start my career. That's always been a goal of mine. I've never thought about leaving here. People have their own opinions and their own decisions and reasons why they're making decisions. And I have mine. I love it here. My goal is to bring a championship here."