“In my eyes, I’m the best player in the game. I really feel that way. Nobody can tell me different.”
You’d expect that quote to come from LeBron James, or even Kevin Durant. Instead, Anthony Davis, the newest client of the Klutch Sports agency, said those words to the assembled media after Wednesday’s practice in New Orleans. It’s not uncommon to hear one of the league’s top-10 or top-15 players speak with confidence. But Davis didn’t hold back. He’s next, and he wants everyone to know it.
Such a bold claim feels like a small shift in messaging from the Pelicans big man. Davis has never been shy about his aspirations to be viewed as one of the best players in the NBA; just two years ago, Davis responded to a question about who he thinks is the best big man in the game by saying, “I’m going to say myself. I don’t think anybody is better than me; that’s the mentality I have.” But Davis told ESPN that he signed with Klutch—the agency run by LeBron’s friend and business partner, Rich Paul—to “improve his overall game.” And just a few days later, he leaned into proclaiming himself the best in the game. The implications of his signing with James’s agency are certainly interesting to ruminate over, but for now, it sure seems like Davis wants the world to notice his prodigious efforts.
Davis’s claim isn’t far-fetched, either. He’s made the past five All-Star games, and heads into next season as an MVP favorite. He’s still only 25, and this might be the season in which his statement becomes not just performative but prophetic.
Davis has two years left on his contract after this season (at $27 million and $28 million, respectively), with a player option in 2020-21. More importantly, he can sign an extension in the summer of 2019 worth an estimated $230 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. In this NBA, though, he has only one more year until he becomes a serious flight risk. The chatter about a move out of New Orleans has followed him most of his career.
Davis, however, has said all the right things when it comes to his future with the Pelicans. “I’m here until 2021 and then I’ll make a decision from there,” he said this past February. “I don’t plan on leaving in the next couple of years. … I’ve always said I wanted to be here and that’s still true.” Three days ago, Davis was more specific. “I’m here, I want to focus on winning this year with the squad that we have.”
Players sometimes switch agencies as they get closer to their next payday, but Davis’s move to Klutch Sports has certainly raised some eyebrows. This is the same agency that not only represents James, but several of James’s former and current teammates. With LeBron signed to a four-year deal with the Lakers, he has time to build his next superteam. Davis is going to be one of the most coveted, if not the most coveted, free agents over the next few seasons. There’s no way the Lakers won’t be pining for his services in 2021—or earlier, if Davis decides to try the early exit option like Jimmy Butler. For what it’s worth, Paul did say that Davis’s change in representation was not a precursor to Davis switching teams (though I’m not sure why he would ever say otherwise).
In the meantime, the switch to Klutch can elevate Davis’s profile. Associating yourself with anything LeBron-adjacent immediately grabs more attention. But even if you think that Davis’s direct line to LeBron has no bearing on his future, it can’t exactly be reassuring for the Pelicans or their fans. They are coming off a great season in which Davis carried the team to a second-round playoff series. He is their franchise. The Pelicans have tried different combinations to build a title contender around Davis, including by making a Hail Mary trade for DeMarcus Cousins ahead of the 2017 trade deadline. But this season’s team may be the best equipped to take advantage of Davis’s rare gifts.
That Davis is now touting himself as “the best player in the game” I think matters less than the fact he knows he can be the best player on a championship team. Davis has already asserted his individual brilliance; but until he makes a dent in the playoffs, there will always be a sense of untapped potential. New Orleans has made the playoffs only twice in Davis’s six seasons, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll make it this season in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. That, and not the agency switch, might end up being the biggest factor in deciding his future.