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NBA PM: Ed Davis Talks Blazers, Lakers, Kobe, Lillard

Ed Davis discusses the Blazers’ success, his stint with the Lakers and playing with Kobe Bryant and Damian Lillard.

Alex Kennedy

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Last summer, Ed Davis signed a three-year deal worth $20 million with the Portland Trail Blazers.

In August, shortly after putting pen to paper, the big man told Basketball Insiders that he wanted to finish his career in Portland. The Blazers would be his fourth different team in his six NBA seasons, so he was ready to settle down and stick with one organization for the long haul. Even though he had yet to play a game for the Blazers, his first impression of the franchise was very positive and he was sold on the team.

“That’s definitely my goal,” Davis told me in August about retiring a Blazer. “Portland is one of those organizations where they like to keep a team together – they like to build that way. I definitely feel like this is an organization I can grow with and hopefully this is my last stop in my career. I’d love to win some championships in Portland, and then I go out here.”

Now, halfway through his stint with the Blazers, he remains pleased with his situation. It has been everything he hoped for and he isn’t regretting his decision one bit.

“It’s been an easy transition for me, especially after bouncing around a little bit in the past,” Davis told Basketball Insiders recently. “There are a lot of other guys here who are also in their first year on this team, so that makes it easier too because we’re all in the same position. It’s a great organization and Coach [Terry] Stotts is probably the coolest coach who I’ve played for in my whole life. [The transition] has just been so easy.”

His teammates have welcomed him with open arms and love what he brings to the squad on and off the court.

“Ed is a crucial part of our team,” C.J. McCollum said via text message. “He holds down the paint, finishes well around the rim and has a great presence in the locker room. He doesn’t complain ever and comes to work with his hard hat on each and every day.”

When asked how his time with the Blazers compares to last year’s stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, Davis was complimentary of head coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak. However, he did state that Portland has a clear-cut rebuilding plan that everyone is aware of and knows where they stand. That wasn’t necessarily the case in Los Angeles, according to Davis.

“Here, we’re trying to build something,” Davis said of Portland. “I enjoyed my time with the Lakers. Coach Scott, Mitch and all those guys were good to me, so I don’t really have any complaints. But it’s just different [in Portland]. Obviously in L.A. they want those big stars and they’re not really trying to keep a core together. Now they’re starting to do it because they aren’t getting those top free agents in. Here, there’s just stability. You know that guys are going to be around for a while. You don’t have the feeling that you could get traded any minute or that they’re going to bring a superstar in [to replace you]. You can just focus on doing your job. You know [the plan] and that everything is going to be fine.”

Everything has been fine for Davis on the court, since he has been a solid fit in the Blazers’ frontcourt. He’s averaging 6.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in 21.1 minutes off the bench while shooting an insanely impressive 62.2 percent from the field (which ranks second in the NBA). When the ball is in his hands, good things happen. This is even more evident when you look at his per-100-possessions averages of 15.8 points, 17.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.

Advanced analytics show his enormous impact as well. He’s surprisingly ranked first among all NBA players in offensive rating (126.1) and he’s ranked third in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage (15 percent). He has also been extremely efficient, as his 18.4 PER is second on the Blazers behind only All-Star point guard Damian Lillard.

Davis’ stint in Portland is somewhat different from his previous NBA stops. Despite being only 26 years old, he’s the third-oldest player on the roster behind only Chris Kaman (33) and Gerald Henderson (28), making him an elder statesmen to some extent. Twelve players on the team are 25 years old or younger since general manager Neil Olshey wants to surround Lillard with players in his age range. The Blazers are the third-youngest team in the NBA (behind only the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks) with an average age of 24.6 years old. The hope for Portland is that the young players will all hit their prime around the same time, allowing the group to make the transition from solid up-and-coming team to legitimate contender in several years.

One benefit of having so many young players on the same team is that they can all relate to each other and are in the same stage of their lives. Because many of the players haven’t settled down yet and started a family, they are all enjoying the NBA lifestyle together and bonding off the court. It’s not uncommon for most of the roster to hang out together – watching movies, going out to eat, playing video games, etc. This is similar to the young Oklahoma City Thunder just before they became a perennial contender, as that team was almost always spending time together and there were even rumors that the players invested in a bus so that they could all travel to off-court events together.

Talking to the players in Portland, it’s clear this is a very tight-knit group and that there’s more bonding taking place this year than in past seasons when there was a mix of young guys and veterans (who oftentimes have a family and different priorities than their younger peers). Davis loves the fact that everyone is around the same age and that the team is so close.

“It’s definitely enjoyable. That’s one thing I love about the NBA: all of the relationships you build,” Davis said. “There are some veterans like Chris Kaman, for example, who can tell us stories and talk about things that he has been through. But we do have a lot of young guys and all of us are hungry. We all still have stuff to prove and we’re all in that 23-to-27 age range. Hopefully we can keep this thing together for a long time.”

Interestingly, Portland is already a bit ahead of schedule in their rebuild. Even though they are so young, have nine new players on the roster and lost five key veterans over the summer (LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo), they are currently 17-24. That means they are only one and a half games outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.

Davis admits that making the playoffs wasn’t a stated goal entering this season, but that has certainly changed with how well the team has played thus far. It’s also evident that this group loves the fact that they’re silencing their preseason critics.

“Coming into the year, they had us and Philly projected as the two worst teams in the NBA and we’re proving those reporters or whoever had us ranked like that wrong,” Davis said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel like we’ve had six or seven other games where we should’ve won too. And I’m not just saying that because we had a chance to win down the stretch, I’m saying there were times where we gave games away. With those wins, we could be even higher in the standings. But that happens with young, inexperienced teams. We just need to continue to play, learn from mistakes and see what happens.”

Another big difference between this season and Davis’ previous NBA campaigns is his salary. The Lakers somehow managed to sign him to a veteran’s minimum deal prior to last season, which was one of the best contracts in the NBA from a team perspective. They were paying Davis just $981,084 for last season and he easily outperformed his deal.

Now that he’s on a more lucrative three-year deal with Portland, he’s actually the second-highest paid player on the squad due to his $6,980,802 salary. Only Al-Farouq Aminu makes more this season ($8,042,895). Next year, Lillard will be the team’s highest-paid player by far because his mega extension will kick in, causing his salary to increase from $4,236,287 to $20,947,250.

While Davis is often mentioned as one of the more underrated players in the NBA, he swears he doesn’t care one bit. He says he isn’t motivated by how others perceive him or how much attention he gets. His quiet, shy demeanor suggests he’s telling the truth.

“I’ve never really cared about getting credit or being famous or anything, I just wanted to do my job,” Davis said. “I do like to prove others wrong, but I don’t care about the fame or Twitter followers or whatever it may be. I just play hard and try to help my team win. If I get noticed for it, great. If not, I’m not losing any sleep over it. I get paid well, I love my job and I love the situation I’m in, so I can’t complain about anything.”

He’s perfectly fine being a role player who does whatever is asked of him – also known as a coach’s best friend. Davis knows that the Blazers are Lillard’s team and he believes the 25-year-old point guard has earned that. Davis loves the way Lillard leads and feels Portland is in good hands with their star point guard carrying the squad.

“He leads by example,” Davis said of Lillard. “When he does talk then everybody listens, but he’s not a big ‘rah-rah’ kind of guy who is going to say this or that. But you know that he’s going to work really hard every single day and he’s going to come to play every single night. He’s even played through injuries and things like that. He’s extremely dedicated. That’s all you can ask for out of your leader. You don’t want your leader to be this big talker, but then you know he’s BSing you. He leads by example and he’s obviously a great player.”

Before teaming up with Lillard, Davis played alongside another lead-by-example star: Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. He’s thankful that he was able to play alongside Bryant before his retirement, and he says Bryant’s professionalism, intensity and work ethic definitely helped him grow as a player.

“He’s going to be a Hall of Famer and I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to be able to say that I played with him,” Davis said of Bryant. “I had a chance to work out with him in the summer and he really changed my perspective on what it means to work hard. I always tell stories about him. I remember one time when Julius [Randle] and I were working out with him, we had probably already worked out for two and a half hours and we might have put up 30 or 40 shots. It was basically just all conditioning. He was beating us in sprints and things like that. It was definitely a wake-up call for me. It was amazing to see a guy who is in his mid-30s and who has that many miles on his body work like that. It was just crazy.”

Now, Davis hopes to use those lessons from Bryant along with past experiences from his other NBA stops to help Portland return to the postseason this season – when just about everyone wrote the team off. Davis is used to thriving in the underdog role, so he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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