Last week, the Los Angeles Lakers finalized what may go down as one of the best signings of the 2014 offseason. The Lakers inked Ed Davis to a two-year contract worth $2 million, with a player option in year two, which is already being regarded as one of the summer’s biggest free agency steals.
Davis is just 25 years old and has been productive when given minutes throughout the course of his four-year NBA career. He has had stints with the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies, with career averages of 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, and he still has a lot of room for growth. When he started 24 games in the 2012-13 season, he averaged 12.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, and had a number of impressive performances.
While the Lakers’ frontcourt is somewhat crowded with Carlos Boozer, Julius Randle, Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly alongside Davis, the Lakers’ front office assured the big man that he would have an opportunity to earn minutes in L.A. Davis is thrilled to join the Lakers, and he believes this will be an excellent opportunity for him to showcase his game and help a team that’s trying to turn things around after a franchise-worst 27-55 record last season.
“I think it will be a great opportunity for me playing wise and I like the pieces that they have in place there,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously, there’s the connection with my agent [Rob Pelinka] and Kobe [Bryant] and some of the guys who are there, so that had something to do with it. But I just thought that this would be a good opportunity for me to come in here, help this team win, compete and have sort of a new start to get rejuvenated.
“I’m very excited. There’s just so much history here and the city has so much respect for the organization. I’ve been working out at the practice facility the last couple of days and just walking through every day and looking at the pictures on the walls, I’m like, ‘Man, this is history right here.’ It’s crazy that I’m about to be a part of it. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Davis said he also received serious interest from the Los Angeles Clippers, but he ultimately decided to don the purple and gold and sign with the other team that inhabits Staples Center.
“I just wanted to find the perfect situation for this upcoming season and for the future,” Davis said. “I didn’t want to take a deal just because it was more money and it might look better – I really wanted to go somewhere that had a need for me and wanted me rather than just joining a team to fill out the roster. For me, it was really just waiting it out and seeing which team had the most interest and seeing where I could go to really help the team and get a chance to play.
“They just told me that the opportunity is going to be there. They weren’t going to promise me anything or any type of minutes, but all you can ask for as a player is a fair opportunity to be able to go out there and compete for a job and minutes, either as a starter or off the bench. I felt that of all the teams that had interest in me, this would be the best fit for me.”
It’s tough to say what Davis’ role is going to be in Los Angeles, especially considering that the Lakers have yet to hire a head coach. The team has met with Byron Scott a number of times, but it doesn’t seem like they’re in any rush to fill the vacant position. Davis said he’s not concerned about that, and points out that he has played for a new coach in every season of his NBA career from Jay Triano and Dwane Casey in Toronto to Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger in Memphis.
“It’s sort of [strange], but not really because this is my fifth year in the league and this will be my fifth head coach,” Davis said with a laugh. “It was going to be a new head coach no matter what for me, so I just focus on the things that I can control. That’s all I can really do.”
Davis was an unrestricted free agent prior to joining the Lakers because the Memphis Grizzlies decided not to extend a qualifying offer that would have made him restricted. Davis had a good time in Memphis, but he knew he wasn’t part of the team’s long-term plan once they re-signed Zach Randolph on a two-year, $20 million extension.
“I enjoyed my time in Memphis,” Davis said. “We went to the playoffs in both years, going to the Conference Finals two years ago and then losing in the first round last year. Obviously, I wanted to play more and be a bigger factor, but it didn’t go as planned. With the qualifying offer, [Robert] Pera called me and told me that they were going to go in a different direction and what not. I understood it 100 percent and we knew that it would be tough on their books, especially once they re-signed Z-Bo, so I knew I likely wasn’t going to be back there. It worked out for both parties and I’m happy about it.”
Davis believes he still has a lot of potential and he’s doing everything he can to maximize it. He’s working very hard this summer and is approaching this upcoming season as his chance to show the league what he’s capable of when put in a position to succeed.
“I’m in the gym every day working on my game, just trying to tune everything up,” Davis said. “I’m really working on my shot; I shot badly from the free throw line last year, so I’m trying to get my average above 70 percent. I’m just working on everything – my conditioning, trying to put on some more weight, all of the little things.
“I’ve grown a lot, especially these last two years going from Toronto to Memphis and learning from Z-Bo and Marc [Gasol] every day, going through the battle of not playing and things like that. I matured a lot and obviously I got bigger physically, which always helps. I definitely learned a lot from my rookie year to now by watching other pros and playing.”
Just like he learned a lot from Gasol and Randolph, Davis is excited to pick Bryant’s brain throughout the 2014-15 campaign. As he mentioned, the two players share the same agent and he believes every player can learn from an all-time great player like No. 24.
“Most definitely, he’s a legend and I can’t wait to learn from him,” Davis said of Bryant. “There are some things that coaches can’t teach you – the mental side of it and the stuff he knows from the things he’s been through. I’m really looking forward to learning from him. Hopefully he can help me out and teach me a lot of things.”
Last season was huge disappointment for the Lakers, as they finished with the second-worst record in the Western Conference. Davis believes that the team should be better this season after getting Bryant back from injury and making a number of changes this offseason.
“I think we definitely have the pieces there [to compete], starting with Kobe,” Davis said. “We definitely have everything that we need. We obviously need to get a head coach in and then go from there, but we have all of the pieces and now we just have to buy in and get it done on the defensive end. Just because we don’t have those high scorers that the Lakers are used to having, we’re going to have to go through Kobe a lot and really get after it on the defensive end.”
It certainly seems like Davis will be a significant contributor for the Lakers, and he’s ready to make the most of this opportunity in L.A.
Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.