MILWAUKEE — First it was the Lakers’ LeBron James, talking openly Tuesday about his desire to play with New Orleans star big man Anthony Davis. Twenty-four hours later, it was Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo going directly to the object of so many NBA folks’ affection.
As Antetokounmpo exited Fiserv Forum Wednesday night after his Bucks’ 123-115 victory over the Pelicans, he came upon Davis talking with a group of family and/or friends not far from the visitors’ dressing room.
“Come to the Bucks, man,” Antetokounmpo said, smiling and shaking Davis’ hand. “Come to the Bucks.”
The two all-NBA players, cornerstones of their respective franchises, laughed. But Davis’ future whereabouts is no joke to a lot of nervous New Orleans fans, and neither is the openness with which other teams’ players can recruit the Pelicans’ meal ticket.
Teams can and do get fined for violating league tampering rules when they go public with sales pitches or even effusive praise of personnel under contract to other organizations. But the NBA has no precedent of penalizing players for trying to woo opponents, in hopes of turning rivals into partners.
That’s what James did in Brooklyn Tuesday, telling ESPN it would be “amazing” and “incredible” to play with Davis, presumably in Los Angeles if the Lakers could sign him in free agency in 2020 or acquire him via trade before that.
Though he declined to meet with reporters after the loss to the Bucks, Davis did comment on James’ quotes briefly to ESPN before he left the arena. “Obviously,” he said, “it’s cool to hear any high-caliber player say they want to play with me. But my job is to turn this team around. If we’re 15-17, that means I’m not doing my job.”
Antetokounmpo’s remarks, while made good-naturedly, upped the ante further. What goes around might come around, too. There are those throughout the NBA who might try to recruit Milwaukee’s “Greek Freak” to team up with them in a market larger or more ostensibly appealing.
Davis, who scored 27 points with 11 rebounds while coping with some stomach sickness, has a player option in his contract after the 2019-20 season, the earliest he could leave New Orleans unless traded.
Antetokounmpo, who had 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for Milwaukee, is under contract through 2020-21.
“We’re not trading him,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said emphatically before the game, for the umpteenth time. “I can say that to the world. We’re not gonna trade him, no matter what. That’s not an option. It doesn’t matter what anybody says or does. We’re not trading Anthony Davis.
“And they’re not trading Giannis.”
Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday knows his team’s best hope to championship contention is coveted by the competition.
“I mean, everybody wants to [have Davis on their team],” Holiday said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t. To us, he’s our franchise player. He’s top three in the world.”
Is it distracting to hear and read media speculation about Davis potentially leaving?
“Nah. I feel like, y’all hear it. We don’t really hear it,” Holiday said. “The only teams I know about is Boston and the Lakers. But again, we don’t really pay attention to that.”
Perhaps. But with James and Antetokounmpo on the record, that leaves about 447 NBA players who have yet to talk openly about luring Davis to their teams.
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