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Anthony Davis opens up about how unhappy he was during final days with Pelicans

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Lakers star Anthony Davis was candid about his mental health in a recent interview about final season with the Pelicans.

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New Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggets Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

Over the last several years, the importance of mental health has come increasingly into focus during discussions about the NBA. Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love really brought it to the forefront with his honesty about the in-game panic attack he suffered a few seasons ago in an unforgettable and personal story in The Players’ Tribune, and has continued to serve as an advocate in the national media and with more essays.

More recently, as players were isolated from their families and friends for the entirety of their respective playoff runs in the NBA bubble, then Lakers guard Danny Green and Clippers star Paul George were open about how difficult the experience was, and how mental health can be just as important to a players’ performance as what shows up on the injury report.

Anthony Davis didn’t quite go that deep on where his head was at during his final season with the Pelicans, nearly two years after his trade demand, but he did do an exclusive interview with Preston Ellis of our sister site The Bird Writes, and during it he touched on how tough his final half season or so with the Pelicans was, and the toll it took on him mentally in the lead-up to (and aftermath of) his trade demand:

“When you’re losing, you don’t realize that you’re not happy,” Davis said. “You made a ton of money. You can do whatever you want. You can live this lifestyle, quote-unquote ‘The American Dream,’ but losing sucks. I {realized that} I’m not happy. I want to be happy. And you kind of go through these times where it’s like, do I really want to play basketball? Am I really good enough? You start doubting yourself because you’re not happy. Or it might be stuff in your personal life where you’re not happy. Whether it’s in a relationship or family, whatever it may be. I had some of those things where it’s like I’m going through something off the court. I’m not happy and it’s reflecting my game. It starts leading to minor injuries, you’re not playing hard enough, things like that.”

That is an almost startlingly candid assessment from Davis, and he didn’t stop there:

“I didn’t want to go to practice, I didn’t want to play,” Davis recalled from 2019. “There was just a lot going on because I didn’t have that joy with me anymore. Getting into it with the fans, the media, it was just a lot. I wasn’t in a great frame of mind — a great space for me to be joyful.

“Every day was like, ‘Ugh, here’s another day. I can’t wait until the season is over.’ Things like that. You’d see people say, ‘AD, you traitor!’ and I’d think, ‘What? You don’t understand what I’m going through.’ It was all wearing down on me at one time, but I had a great team around me, from my agency to my family to my friends, ‘Nah, forget what they’re saying. You’re doing what’s best for you and your family.’”

This is just another reminder that as much as we invest in watching these guys, and how these teams do, we will never truly know everything about them and what is leading to their play. Lack of joy isn’t going to show up on the injury report, but it’s fascinating to see Davis suggest that him not feeling motivated to play hard enough could lead to more injuries, a viewpoint I honestly had not previously considered.

Additionally, as much blame as Davis (and his agency, and LeBron, etc.) got for the way he went about his trade demand, it’s hard to blame Davis for wanting out after reading this. If he was so unhappy in New Orleans that he was basically doubting if he was good at basketball — or at the very least questioning his abilities on the court — that’s a real issue, and it’s hard to argue with him feeling he needed a change to shake things up if he felt that way.

And it’s not like he just got a free ride out of town, either. He had to deal with so many questions about his personal decision that he didn’t want to go to work. He had to deal with fans calling him a traitor. Both are just parts of playing in the NBA at times — it’s a public spectacle, and people want to know where you want to play, and are going to have thoughts on it — but Davis is a human being just like any of us, and as he said, no amount of money makes all of that easy to go through.

On Thursday, it will have been two years since Davis demanded that fateful trade, altering the course of two franchises’ histories in the process. Given that since then Davis has practically radiated joy while playing for a team that puts good supporting casts around him alongside a friend and mentor like LeBron James, it’s pretty much impossible to rationally argue with the reasoning for his decision, and whether or not he made the right choice for himself. It is still interesting, however, to hear him be so honest about the reasons he made his decision, and hopefully his candor is enough to help anyone on the outside who still didn’t understand at least be able to empathize with why he felt that doing things this way was necessary.

He doesn’t owe anyone that, but it is one more reminder that as superhuman as these guys appear, they’re humans with hopes, dreams and desires just like the rest of us. Davis was just doing what he felt he had to in order to chase his.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.