NEW ORLEANS -- Across the hallway from the New Orleans Pelicans' locker room, through painfully clear glass, a bank of TVs covered the walls of the owner's suite, running SportsCenter and NBATV. ESPN's Michael Wilbon was on one screen, discussing Pelicans GM Dell Demps' not answering trade calls. Another rolled highlights of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, hypothesizing what Anthony Davis might look like as a teammate.
On the other side of the hall, inside the locker room, with about an hour until tipoff, a couple of Pelicans players sat quietly at their lockers. Above each one, there was a laminated sign.
If they stand behind you -- protect them
If they stand beside you -- respect them
If they stand against you -- destroy them
In the wake of Davis' trade request, that mindset appears to already be taking shape around the franchise. His presence is overwhelming in New Orleans, not just on the court but also in almost every promotion or sizzle reel that rolls during a game. For a franchise that struggles to draw consistent crowds, Davis is the carrot, the de facto face, and everything the Pelicans do is to use his megastardom to promote the game experience. Sure, you're going to a Pelicans game. But you're also going to see what Anthony Davis will do next.
There was still some signage up, among fans sitting in the "AD's Flight Academy" section, but in a discernible way, Davis was largely scrubbed from Wednesday's game. His jersey wasn't prominently displayed for sale anywhere in the team store, and the standard ubiquity of Davis that you feel at a game in New Orleans was missing.
The intro hype video barely featured him -- mainly just him passing to someone else -- and at the end of it, as always, a picture of the entire team flashed on the screen with the team's "Do It Big" motto. Davis was nowhere to be seen in the picture. He had been removed.
A few minutes before tipoff of the Pelicans' 105-99 loss to the Nuggets, Davis made his way out of the tunnel to sit on the end of the bench, hearing a few periodic jeers and boos from fans around him. It wasn't extreme; it was hardly noticeable. There weren't a lot of signs; there weren't any chants. He participated in huddles, talked with teammates during the game, clapped for 3-pointers and called out defenses. It was all pretty normal.
The situation, though, is excruciatingly high levels of not normal. Coach Alvin Gentry tried, rather emphatically, to note that Davis is still part of the team, almost laughing off the idea that it's uncomfortable for anyone. At the same time, Gentry couldn't say whether Davis would ever play another game for the Pelicans.
In Tuesday's win over the Houston Rockets, Davis walked up to Gentry and assistant coach Chris Finch late in the fourth quarter and had something to say. Gentry wouldn't say what it was about, reaffirming only that Davis is part of the team, so it wasn't unusual.
"It was very good conversation," Gentry said. "It was very positive conversation. He's a part of our team, guys. He's on our team, OK?"
In Wednesday's game, at some point during the fourth quarter, Davis disappeared from the Pelicans' bench and finished the game presumably in the locker room. He was spotted in the hallway outside the locker room, one of the first players to leave, after a brief meeting with Demps in his office.
"I don't look down the bench and see who's on the bench and who's not," Gentry said. "I think we're making more of a big deal out of it than it is."
Technically, Davis is still part of the Pelicans. And he might continue to be through the rest of this season, depending on what kind of trade offers emerge and what approach the team wants to take. The Pelicans still have him under contract for all of next season. But Wednesday felt like the beginning of moving on from Davis, with an undeniable sense that he'd never play again for the team reverberating around the arena.
Gentry is the face of the situation presently, as Davis hasn't spoken publicly yet -- he's expected to at the team's practice on Friday -- and is doing his best to portray resilience and poise. But everywhere you walk in the arena, the conversation is about Davis.
Fans are rallying around Jrue Holiday, cheering him loudly in introductions and screaming his name (they're not saying "boo;" they're saying "Jruuuuee"). He's a quiet leader, one who does it by example. He plays hard, and he plays unselfishly.
"I think with Jrue, you're going to get everything that he's got," Gentry said. "He's here. He's dedicated. He wants to do everything he can do to help this team win."
Twenty-four hours after their rousing win over the Rockets, the Pelicans were making a late push, overcoming a double-digit deficit, to have a chance against the Nuggets. Holiday drilled a tough straightaway 3-pointer to cut the lead to one with 90 seconds left. Feeling the threat, the Nuggets calmly isolated Nikola Jokic on Jahlil Okafor and got a bucket. Holiday air-balled his next 3-point attempt, a deep shot coming out of a scrambled possession. Another Jokic isolation on Okafor, another bucket.
It was an admirable effort by New Orleans, but more than at any other point in the night, it was obvious that something was missing.
"I feel like with Anthony here, he's still very encouraging, he's definitely a team player, an ultimate professional," Holiday said. "But as a team, I think we're trying to feed off each other, help each other out."
Despite a close loss, the Pelicans were upbeat. Holiday was especially pleased with the play of some of the younger players getting an opportunity in the absence of Davis, such as Kenrich Williams, who scored 21 points against Denver.
Holiday is quiet and cool, hard to rattle. He said he has seen plenty of crazy situations in his time in the NBA and is already adapting to the new normal around the Pelicans. He said it Monday: the common refrain that the NBA is a business, and these things happen. It's leverage of a superstar playing his hand as the league shuffles its deck.
Before the game, Holiday sat at his locker and leaned back in his chair, AirPods in, watching an episode of "Game of Thrones." Like a lot of people, he's trying to catch up before the final season starts in a few weeks. Solomon Hill walked through the middle of the room and glanced over at Holiday.
"'Game of Thrones,' baby!" Hill yelled.
"Game of Thrones" indeed -- the NBA's version, at least.