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.
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