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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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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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