In 2008, Baron Davis agreed to a five-year, $65 million dollar deal with the Clippers, which would bring him back to Los Angeles and allow his career to come full circle. Conversely, the return to the bright lights and big city produced his lowest season average in points per game (14.9) during his inaugural season with the Clippers compared to his previous seven seasons (19.6).
Moreover, his 38.8 percent shooting percentage his first two seasons with the Clippers hovered under his career average of 40.9 percent. His shots from three-point range were even worse at 29 percent.
Davis was also hampered by injuries, which would reportedly play a part in his weigh ballooning to the 260-pound mark prior to the start of the 2010-11 season. Whether it was a rash of injuries or lack of focus, it didn’t strike a good first impression on newly-hired Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro.
“Baron has incredible amounts of talent and ability, but his focus needs to be on staying in condition and playing at a high level,” Del Negro said. “And he hasn’t done that for a while, and I know he’s frustrated with that, but there’s things he has to do to correct that.”
Losing provided the coup de grâce—since Davis arrived, the club has posted dismal records of 19-63 and 29-53.
The Clippers started the 2010-11 season 1-13, relegating them back to mediocrity after high hopes of a turnaround. While the losses piled, it was easy to point fingers at Davis who currently has three years and almost $42 million left on his contract.
Summate all of these factors and you have a frugal Clippers owner getting a serious case of buyer’s remorse. That buyer’s remorse would soon take the form of extreme dissatisfaction, as Clippers owner Donald Sterling heckled Davis for his bad play and lack of physical conditioning.
“Why did you take that shot” and “you’re out of shape” struck Davis like verbal daggers.
It was bad enough to have the coach and Clippers fans frustrated, but to have the team owner join in on the fray was disheartening for Davis.
“It’s frustrating because I know and my teammates know I’m capable of getting it done, even dudes on the other team,” said Davis regarding Sterling’s taunts, which apparently took place courtside.
The pain has somewhat eased, as the Clippers are now 11-11 in their last 22 games. They are also 7-3 in their last 10.
With rookie sensation Blake Griffin and guard Eric Gordon absorbing the limelight with their elevated play, it casts a shadow on the 31-year-old Davis, a former two-time All-star selection.
However, it appears that Davis is willing to accept this reduced role on the Clippers. He may have no other choice. Sterling’s experiment with building the franchise around Davis has come to pass, as the Los Angeles native turns 32 in April.
In the Clippers’ latest victory, they upended the Golden State Warriors 105-91. In that game, Davis added 17 points to complement Gordon’s game-high 25 points and Griffin’s 23rd consecutive double-double with 23 points, 12 rebounds.
Davis was quick to acknowledge his supporting role following the win.
“Offensively, Eric Gordon and Blake have been carrying this team,” Davis said after the game. “Just getting myself, DJ (DeAndre Jordan), Ryan Gomes, other guys involved takes a lot of pressure off them.”
Rather than take it upon himself to be the primary offensive option, he did what point guards should do and facilitated the Clippers’ offense, resulting in 11 assists.
“We’re a unit out there,” said Davis, who’s averaged 13.6 points and 8.4 assists the last five games.
In the Clippers’ 106-93 win against a healthy Denver Nuggets team last Wednesday, Davis hit a crucial three-pointer at the 5:54 mark of the fourth quarter, which helped stifle a late Nuggets rally.
“Teams can’t double team Blake like they usually do or key in on Eric Gordon like they usually do because we’ve been able to knock down shots and you know, get out on the fast break and get some easy baskets,” added Davis.
A young, talented team in need of veteran savvy and leadership can sure use Davis, especially with the surging Miami Heat visiting the Clippers on Wednesday night. Davis is looking forward to the match-up with Miami’s superstar triumvirate.
“It’s gonna be fun,” said Davis. “I’ve play against those guys all my career and you know, it’s always a battle, always fun to play against the top talent in the league.”
“I think it’s going to be a good test for us as a team to see where we are, but it’s just another game and another opportunity for us to get better, just really to see who we are and where we are and how we compete against the elite teams. I like our chances.”
While winning appears to have quieted some criticism regarding Davis, there are still some lingering questions. Will the Clippers pitch Davis to teams who are willing to take on his exorbitant contract before the rapidly approaching February trade deadline? Or do they keep Davis and let him settle in as the third option?
Even if Davis does become a solid third option, he’s a $42 million third option. He may possibly be a fourth option once center Chris Kaman returns from his ankle injury.
That may not sit well with Sterling. At least for now, the jeers have ceased, but for how long?