After weeks of rumors, Baron Davis was finally released last Thursday by the Cavaliers, the team to which he was traded in the middle of last season. Davis had reported to camp in no condition to play, with a bulging disk in his back that was given an expected healing time of over two months. That prognosis was enough to deter the handful of teams below the salary cap that were eligible to sign him off the waiver wire, and he became an unrestricted free agent late Friday night. It was evident from the outset that Davis would be drawn to contending teams, and on Sunday he agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Knicks. This morning, it became official.
The signing makes plenty of sense for the Knicks. Their point guard depth sans Davis amounts to unproven floor generals like Toney Douglas and Iman Shumpert, the aged and limited Mike Bibby, and hope that Carmelo Anthony might make strides as a distributor. Davis, at 32, remains a brilliant ball-handler and passer (exhibits A, B, and C), and he’ll have plenty of willing targets in the Knicks’ eminent new frontcourt. And while Davis’s days of scoring twenty points a game are behind him, he’s still perfectly capable of attacking the rim and getting hot from outside, albeit less capable than he might think.
And therein lies one popular critique of this deal. Davis, bearded and buoyant, has a reputation as an easily distracted, carefree player prone to lapses in effort and discipline. Those familiar with him, though, often add the caveat that his maddening ways tend to emerge in losing situations (although there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg element to that statement). Davis has never really been on a contending team; his last trip to the playoffs was with the 2007 Warriors, perhaps the finest stretch of his career. Talent-wise, these Knicks are the best teammates Davis has ever played with, and if he moderates his impulses appropriately, he should have plenty to offer. And even if he doesn’t, it won’t be the end of the world. The Knicks are paying him the same amount they’re paying Jared Jeffries. Should Davis never heal, fail to mesh, or develop a crippling dependence on Gray’s Papaya, then he’ll earn his minimum salary and be on his way at the end of the season. It’s a low-risk move.
The most interesting variable now is the amount of time Davis will actually miss because of that back injury. It’s quite possible that the original assessment of eight to ten weeks on the sidelines was exaggerated a bit to scare off the non-contending bidders so that he’d clear waivers. However, a bulging disk is no joke (recall Danilo Gallinari’s rookie season), so the Knicks will have to tackle at least several weeks of the schedule with their current corp of misfit point guards. If Douglas gets into a rhythm or Anthony embraces a more generous role or something, Mike D’Antoni will have a delicate task in fitting the healthy Davis into the rotation. More likely, though, his presence will be a welcome addition and allow others to play more natural positions.
Meanwhile, because Davis is signing for that veteran’s minimum contract, and not the $2.5 million room exception as was originally reported, that exception can be used to bolster the frontcourt. We’ve discussed a few available forwards already, and Howard Beck names James Posey as the Knicks’ primary target at the moment. If Posey or anyone of his caliber can be lured, the Knicks will have added meaningful depth in two spots that badly needed it, and cheaply at that. Pretty cool, no?