Anthony Davis' coronation as the Next Big Thing was over last season before the save-the-dates could be distributed. After a summer of MVP hype and heavy promotion by the NBA, most notably via booking the Brow for all three of its marquee regular-season slates, what was supposed to be The Year of AD began with the budding superstar starting next to Nate Robinson against the reigning champs and rolled, rather unmercifully, downhill from there. Davis' potential at one point seemed limitless, but by the end of the New Orleans Pelicans' slide from 45 to 30 wins, even his first big payday fell short of expectations.
A year after Alvin Gentry's champagne-soaked entry, the hangover lingers. Davis received just two third-place votes in ESPN's early MVP projections for the 2016-17 season, and his Pelicans, after an offseason spent identity-shifting the supporting cast with a group of self-made grinders, are expected to finish three spots below the postseason cutoff.
So while New Orleans deservedly celebrates its winning bid for the 2017 All-Star Game, it's possible that Davis, who finished ninth last season in fan voting among Western Conference frontcourt players, may again need to sweat out a spot in the main event instead of automatically assuming the role of unofficial host.
Or maybe everything is aligning for All-Star weekend to serve as some scaled-down version of that long-awaited coming-out party.
A leap all the way back to the front of the line is unlikely. MVP recipients' teams have won 61.5 games on average, meaning the Pelicans, who finished 30-52 last season, would have to double their win total in 2016-17. Which is possible, but not probable: A turnaround of 30 wins or more has happened just five times before and twice in the past decade-plus -- the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns and 2007-08 Boston Celtics, both of which were spurred by the addition of an MVP in free agency.
The Pelicans have taken quite the opposite approach, swapping high-profile scorers for high-level role players to space the floor and finally plug a defense that has ranked among the league's bottom third throughout the Davis era. While a far cry from the fever dream of adding Kevin Durant, the hope is that a few able bodies more befitting coach Alvin Gentry's preferences -- plus a prayer for improved health after last season's prodigious body count -- will be enough to unleash the MVP-caliber player already in house.
That's what's so often lost in the discussion of Davis: The historic production at such a young age elicited all sorts of wild fantasies for the future, but his reality already warranted Executive Platinum status. While the Brow brand took off in earnest at some point during the 2014-15 season -- likely while suspended in air for that double-clutch, game-winning 3-pointer in Oklahoma City -- talk of Davis emerging as the league's top player can be traced back as early as the start of his sophomore season. Even last season, his raw production was eerily similar to the season prior, when he finished fifth in MVP voting:
The difference, of course, lies in the details: Davis played a career-low 61 games, shot a career-worst 49.3 percent and turned in the 16th-best defensive real plus-minus at his position as the Pelicans slunk to their lowest win total since Davis' rookie season.
The downshift in outlook, both for Davis and the Pelicans, has certainly been a disappointment; with the NFL's Saints mired last year in a repeat 7-9 season, fans and staffers quietly savored the opportunity to finally carve out their own place in the sports hierarchy. But this summer's purge of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, the last vestige of a time before Davis, has at least provided the team with something of a clean slate. While team brass may fret over the repercussions of another season in the draft lottery, the unburdening of external expectations could possibly lead to a renewed appreciation of some of the feats -- the League Pass Alert performances, the athleticism and ferocity unleashed on lobs, the touch and skill of a guard from a gangly giant -- that helped push Davis to the precipice to begin with.
If anything, the recalibrated roster could provide more of a platform than ever before. Amid the league-high 42 different starting lineups New Orleans trotted out last season, Davis and Jrue Holiday utilized more offensive possessions than at any point in their careers. With Anderson and Norris Cole out, Tyreke Evans on the outs, and ball-moving, tertiary options like Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill, E'Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway in, the onus should be on, and thus a greater opportunity to rack up numbers will be present for Davis.
Maybe he can't regain the overwhelming momentum for his MVP candidacy or even get back on the ticket next season, but there will be plenty of chances to remind everyone of why such outsized expectations were placed upon Davis in the first place.