NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis has listened to those prodding him to ramp up his posts, rough up a rival on Twitter, give the old grinding hashtag after leaving the practice gym.
"Yeah, I hear it all: You need to post before games," Davis said. "If you have a dunk or make a big shot, post it. It's not me. I don't ever try to do anything just for attention. I am trying to get my work in.
"I don't know what you're supposed to get out of posting your workout. And the All-Star stuff, 'Hey, vote for me!' I mean, if you're a fan of mine, you'll probably vote for me. If not, well ..."
If there are moments when Davis is tempted to raise one of those condor arms and remind everyone of his peerless talent, you can forgive him: In an NBA awash with under-25-year-old marvels, Davis is still an ascending, transcendent talent, a size and skill set from the future plopped into the present.
Yet even so, sometimes it's easy to move on to everyone else. Two years out of the playoffs with the Pelicans, and Davis said, "It feels like it's been 20 years." Behind him in the NBA draft there has come a crop of global talents from Greece and Latvia, Cameroon and Australia. Davis comes out of the heartland, the South Side of Chicago.
"I think about that all the time," Davis said. "I hear these TV shows and see social media. They say [Kristaps] Porzingis. They say Giannis [Antetokounmpo], Joel [Embiid]. And that's fine, I'll just play basketball.
"But it goes back to the winning thing, too, and well, what have they won? They're in the same boat as me. I just try to go out and play and not to worry much about it.
"... But it is personal. For sure, it's personal. When I play those games, they're talking about [Karl-Anthony] Towns, and they're talking about Porzingis and Giannis, and they're talking about me. Who is going to win this matchup? Who's going to win this game? I absolutely take it more personally."
Winning matters. It colors everything. Davis is having a magnificent season, and the Pelicans appear to be a playoff team. They're 15-15, only a game-and-a-half out of fifth place in the Western Conference. Davis is averaging 25.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. So far, he has career highs in true shooting percentage (64.2), 3-point percentage (34.9) and points in the paint per game (14.1).
"Winning. That's it. That's how you're judged," he said. "You can score, you can dominate. You can do whatever. But they calculate everything off winning. You know that. I know that. Everybody in the league knows that. I hear it all the time: 'Anthony is a good player, but he hasn't won anything. He's not a winner. He hasn't been to the playoffs in two years.'"
"It bothers me. You know you're doing everything in your power to try and win. Playing through injuries, playing a ton of minutes, diving on the floor, but you just can't come up with enough wins to go to the playoffs. And it isn't enough just going to the playoffs. You want to make noise. You want to be a threat.
"People judge you. For DeMarcus and me, this is the time. The time is now."
Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have discovered a way to play together. In a league going small and smaller, the Pelicans have gone big and bigger. It has taken time. When Cousins was traded to the Pelicans in February, the transition wasn't so easy.
"I really didn't know how to play alongside of him in the beginning," Davis said. "We were both demanding the ball on the block. There was a lot of confusion."
For point guard Jrue Holiday, it was even harder. "He was balancing out trying to get the ball to DeMarcus or get it to me, and he stopped being aggressive," Davis said.
They had a summer and a training camp together. They learned how to balance the floor. Davis has developed his 3-point shot and now takes defenders even further onto the perimeter. There's a large photo in the Pelicans' practice facility of a scene from Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors-Pelicans playoff series in 2015, and Cousins has repeatedly studied the texture of it all -- the ferocity on the floor, the tense faces in the stands.
"He'll ask me, 'That's how packed it was? Was it crazy in here?'" Davis said. "He wants to win."
Davis walks past the poster and longs for a return to postseason basketball. "I had a touch of the playoffs, and I think about it all the time."
As a franchise player, Davis has been largely naive to the powers of his position, muted in pushing management and ownership on issues surrounding the franchise. Upon their arrival, Rajon Rondo and Cousins have urged Davis to use his stature to effect change. Davis never considered talking to the coaching staff about moving back morning practice times based on the lateness of the previous night's game -- until Rondo and Cousins suggested it.
"They'll come here and say, 'This isn't supposed to be like this,'" Davis said. "Or, 'We should have this.'"
He shrugged. "I don't know how it is anywhere else. This is the only place I've been."
"Isaiah [Thomas] took his team to the Eastern Conference finals, and they traded him. It makes you wonder: Does this organization really have my back?"Anthony Davis
Davis is in the second season of a five-year, $127 million contract that expires in 2021. He has been patient with the Pelicans' personnel problems and their frequent missteps. He loves New Orleans and swears he doesn't long for a major market. He does, however, long for a well-run, well-balanced franchise. He sees it with San Antonio and Oklahoma City and plans to hold his team accountable to find a way. Cousins' arrival is a start, but the Pelicans are devoid of depth and developing young talent.
"You look at the Warriors, Cleveland, Boston," he said. "They lose Gordon [Hayward], they're still playing well. KD-Steph-Draymond-Klay. They play so well with each other. They move the basketball. They don't care who scores. Steph and Draymond are out, and they still won. KD is out. They still win.
"That's the way the league is now. I don't see anyone winning without three or four All-Stars. ... I was in the [MVP] conversation in my third year, and we didn't win. We went to the playoffs, got swept, and I dropped out of all that so fast. It's about winning. You can have all the numbers in the world, but you better win. That's what it is. This whole league, everything is about winning. Every award. Everything. It's all about winning."
Davis remains an obsession of several NBA teams full of the necessary trade assets to unfasten him from New Orleans, should the Pelicans ever consider a rebuild --- or should Davis ever request a trade. Boston has remained vigilant on the possibility of acquiring Davis, and Davis knows it. However, the Pelicans have no intention of trading an all-world talent under contract through 2021, no matter the return.
Before the Cousins trade a year ago, though, Davis kept hearing talk of the Celtics trying to trade for him. He walked into GM Dell Demps' office and asked about it.
"He told me that [Boston] was calling, but nothing was going to happen," Davis said. "At the same time, though, you see how organizations treat players. Isaiah Thomas. DeMarcus [Cousins] told me that the [Kings] told him that he wasn't going to get traded, but they traded him. Isaiah took his team to the Eastern Conference finals, and they traded him.
"It makes you wonder: Does this organization really have my back? I've been loyal to this organization. I love it here. I love this team. I think we're moving in the right direction. DeMarcus, Rondo, some other players that are helping us, but people get judged on winning. And I want to win.
"It's not about the money. It's not about having fans. The most important thing to me: winning. That's what I want to do. And I want to do it here."