CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New Orleans Pelicans abruptly fired Dell Demps, their general manager, on Friday amid continuing uncertainty about the future of forward Anthony Davis.
In an announcement Friday, the team said that the Pelicans and Demps “decided to mutually part ways” after discussions that morning.
Gayle Benson, the Pelicans’ owner, made the move after New Orleans’ home win Thursday night over Oklahoma City, according to two people who were not authorized to discuss the decision publicly.
ESPN described Benson as “livid” with widely circulated television footage of Davis leaving the arena in the second half of Thursday’s game after suffering a shoulder injury, although it was later reported that he had left to undergo an M.R.I. exam.
Davis arrived in Charlotte on Friday for All-Star Weekend, hoping to play in Sunday’s All-Star Game if his shoulder recovers sufficiently.
Benson had been contemplating an in-season change in the front office for weeks, to start plotting a new course for the franchise without Davis, according to two people with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Benson owns the Pelicans and the N.F.L.’s New Orleans Saints and had Demps reporting to Mickey Loomis, the Saints’ general manager. Danny Ferry, a Pelicans executive who has been a general manager in Cleveland and Atlanta, will serve as Demps’s interim replacement.
It is uncertain how the change will affect the long-term future of Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry, who has won plaudits for guiding the team through the Davis saga and for largely serving as the team’s spokesman during the drama.
Gentry, however, had trouble stifling his frustration after the Oklahoma City game, telling reporters of the Davis situation, “To tell you the truth, this whole thing has been a dumpster fire.”
New Orleans hired Demps in July 2010. He handled the complicated exit of Chris Paul via trade in December 2011 and drafted Davis No. 1 overall in June 2012. He also traded for Jrue Holiday, a highly rated guard, and, in his biggest move, negotiated a deal for center DeMarcus Cousins, then with Sacramento, during the 2017 All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
The Pelicans, though, made the playoffs just three times in Demps’s eight seasons and have consistently suffered from a lack of depth in support of Davis and Holiday. New Orleans appeared to be trending in a good direction last season, with Davis flanked by Cousins and Holiday, but Cousins sustained a season-ending Achilles’ tendon tear in January 2018 that ultimately led to his departure through free agency last summer.
Plagued by a steady stream of injuries this season, New Orleans has not been able to match its performance last season: a 48-34 regular-season record even after losing Cousins and a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Davis, through his agent Rich Paul, requested a trade Jan. 28 when he informed the Pelicans that he would not sign a five-year, $240 million contract extension the club can offer him July 1. The request came just 10 days before the league’s annual trade deadline, leaving little time to construct a trade with sufficient return for a player of his caliber.
But New Orleans immediately made it clear that it intended to keep Davis through the deadline and into the off-season, when other teams — the Boston Celtics in particular — would be in a better position to make a compelling offer.
Davis is under contract through next season, but it has been widely anticipated throughout the league that New Orleans would have to trade him as soon as it was clear Davis planned to reject an extension.
N.B.A. players are not allowed to openly seek trades, and Davis was fined $50,000 because Paul went public with his client’s request.
In an interview Thursday with a small group of reporters, Charles Barkley, the Hall of Famer and outspoken TNT commentator, blasted Davis and Paul for the timing of the trade demand. Barkley said Davis’s winding up with the Lakers has been a likely outcome from the moment Davis hired Paul as his agent in September. Paul also represents LeBron James, the Lakers’ superstar.
“At some point Anthony Davis is going to be with the Lakers,” Barkley said. “The fix is in. I actually got a call from Rich Paul. I said: ‘Dude, the fix is in. You know he’s going to the Lakers.’
“This is a bad situation,” Barkley said. “This is a bad look for the N.B.A.”
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