The N.B.A. said Monday that it required the New Orleans Pelicans to play Anthony Davis, their disgruntled All-Star, after he was not traded before last week’s trade deadline because of “league rules governing competitive integrity.”
The Pelicans initially planned to sit Davis for the rest of the season once they responded to his request to be traded by deciding to keep him beyond Thursday’s deadline, according to two people familiar with New Orleans’ stance who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
But the league office said it intervened because of its rules about resting healthy players, which are in place largely to prevent teams from weakening their rosters intentionally to incur losses that could improve their draft position in June. The practice is known as “tanking.”
The Pelicans maintain that they were trying to protect Davis from a serious injury during the final 28 regular-season games before the off-season, when they do intend to trade him after they field offers from a wider base of teams than those who made competitive offers last week, according to the people.
Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, said Monday that “the Pelicans were advised that the team had not identified a proper basis” to hold Davis out of games.
“League rules governing competitive integrity therefore require that he be permitted to play,” Bass said.
Bass also denied an ESPN report from last week that said the Pelicans were threatened by the league with per-game fines of $100,000 if they sat Davis when he wanted to play.
Davis, who can become a free agent in July 2020, requested a trade from the Pelicans on Jan. 28 but did not insist that he be traded before the deadline, The Times reported last week. As part of the trade request, Davis also told the Pelicans that he intended to decline their offer of a $240 million contract extension in July and that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Knicks were the two teams he was most open to signing a long-term deal with.
Upon learning of New Orleans’ plans to sit Davis after the Pelicans and Lakers broke off days of contentious trade talks, Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, lobbied league officials on Davis’s behalf to clear him to play, according to the people.
Both Paul and Michele Roberts, head of the N.B.A. Players Association, declined to comment Monday.
“Anthony Davis will play the remainder of the 2018-19 season for the New Orleans Pelicans,” New Orleans General Manager Dell Demps said in a statement last week. “A number of factors contributed to this decision. Ultimately Anthony made it clear to us that he wants to play and gives our team the best opportunity to win games. Moreover the Pelicans want to preserve the integrity of the game and align our organization with N.B.A. policies. We believe Anthony playing upholds the values that are in the best interest of the N.B.A. and its fans. We look forward to seeing Anthony in a Pelicans uniform soon.”
Davis has since appeared in two games with New Orleans, averaging 28.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game in a win (over Minnesota) and a defeat (in Memphis).
The N.B.A. has been increasingly vigilant in sanctioning teams for resting healthy players since an incident in November 2012, when the San Antonio Spurs were fined $250,000 for sending Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home with virtually no notice before a nationally televised game in Miami.
This season, though, several players with smaller profiles than Davis have been shelved by their teams in anticipation of a trade without any public pushback from the N.B.A.
Like Davis, Chandler Parsons of Memphis and Carmelo Anthony, the former Houston Rocket, wanted to play but were benched for months. Parsons has since rejoined the Grizzlies after they were unable to find a new home for him via trade before the deadline; Anthony spent more than two months in exile before the Rockets traded him to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 21. Anthony became a free agent on Feb. 3 after the Bulls released him and he cleared waivers.
Cleveland’s J.R. Smith and Zach Randolph, the former Sacramento King who was traded to Dallas last week, have also been inactive for long spells this season — but both by mutual agreement with their teams.