December 13, 2004, Staples Center. The Clippers have a double digit fourth quarter lead over the Boston Celtics. Ricky Davis scores 19 fourth quarter points, including 11 in the final 4 minutes and the game-tying free throws with 8 seconds left, and the Celtics go on to win the game in the second overtime.
It's dangerous to evaluate a player based only on what he does to your team. Let's face it, for a player like Ricky Davis, whose rarely even been in the post-season, I see him play against the Clippers and that's about it. But he kills the Clippers, and always has. He KILLS the Clippers.
So yes, my perspective is skewed, but I love the fact that the Clippers were able to sign him. What's not to like?
Does Ricky Davis have issues? Well, sure. But what do you want for $2.3M?
The Clippers needed a swing man, capable first and foremost of backing up the small forward position, but also capable of playing some guard. Check and check. They needed someone who could shoot with range. Check. Someone capable of scoring off the bench. Check. And they only had $2.3M to spend, so Luol Deng was not really an option.
The contract is a thing of beauty. The first year salary was dictated by the amount of money the Clippers had to spend. But the fact that he has a player option for the second season means that he has lots of incentive to play well, hoping to get more money next year. (Although I don't expect him to opt out, as he played pretty well last year in Miami, and this is all he got offered, so it's unlikely he's going to increase his stock a lot playing behind Thornton. But the incentive is there nonetheless.) And it's only two years total, bringing to four (Ricky, Cat, Thomas and Camby) the number of Clippers whose contracts expire in summer 2010. And don't underestimate the value of having four contracts of varying sizes expiring in 2010. With Ricky ($2.3M), Thomas ($6M), Cat ($9.1M) and Camby ($10M) you can match basically any contract in the NBA. The Clippers are one stop shopping for any NBA team that decides to have a fire sale targeting 2010 cap space. Or they can just hang onto all those guys and keep all that lovely cap space for themselves.
But it's more than just a nice contract. It's a good signing, because Ricky Davis can play. Sure, he's a bit of a chucklehead. And having Tim Thomas and Ricky Davis on the same team will definitely create some frustration for fans of heady basketball and floor burns. But Ricky Davis would probably have been the 07-08 Clippers' second leading scorer. And he'll be coming off the bench for this team.
And although clearly he's never been a coach's favorite anywhere he's been, I certainly don't think he deserves the 'cancer' label. He's a chucker; he's not a great defender; but he's a good enough guy. He's never, as far as I know, had any run-ins with the law. There was of course the infamous 'triple-double' incident, but other than that, I can't think of any specific instances of untoward behavior. I mean, he's not Ron Artest or Stephen Jackson, serial trouble-makers verging on insane. He likes him some stats, and providing instant offense off the bench I think that it can be a symbiotic relationship for the Clippers.
Do I like Ricky Davis better than Kelenna Azubuike? In some ways I do. Obviously Azubuike is younger and we all fall in love with the idea of a player's potential. But think about it - Kelenna Azubuike was in the D-League 19 months ago. As well as he's done, and as far as he's come, wouldn't he be thrilled if some day he were as good as Ricky Davis? And it's not like Buike had a reputation as a great defender in Oakland so he was also primarily an offensive signing. Maybe Buike is going to turn into a star in the NBA, whereas we can be pretty certain that Davis is what he is, but look at it this way. For the Clippers to keep this theoretical star Buike long term, they would have eventually had to pay him like a star. With Davis, they can take the money and try to pay an actual star in 2010. And I definitely like Davis better than Bonzi Wells or Devean George or some of the other names we've been hearing. Bottom line: I'm pleasantly surprised that the Clippers were able to pull this off with the money they had left. He is a very good fit with this team.
I've seen comments suggesting that Baron Davis and Marcus Camby will keep Ricky in line. Maybe - it's hard to say. The Clippers have a lot of new faces and chemistry is going to be a major issue. Of the returning players, Kaman is viewed as a bit of a space cadet, and Tim Thomas has never been a locker room leader. That pretty much leaves Cat Mobley. Baron, Cat and Camby will certainly try to provide veteran leadership for the club, but given that those three players played for three different teams last season, it remains to be seen how that will go. I do know this - teams that are winning games seem to have fewer issues than teams that are losing games. Funny how that works.
Interestingly, Ricky Davis has come up in the context of Clips Nation before. When MDsr was experimenting with bringing Maggette off the bench in 06-07, I dug through years of stats looking for 20 point scorers, trying to prove that he should have been starting. All of the 20 point scorers for the last 10 seasons were stars and starters for their teams, and all had either signed a big contract, or played in an all star game, or both. All except two. Ricky Davis and Mike James. Ricky Davis is not as good as Corey Maggette - but he's similar in many ways. He'll definitely score. And he'll definitely make mistakes on defense and turn the ball over. The biggest difference at this point of course is that Maggette's contract is worth 10 times as much as Davis'.
Last thing. If you'll recall, the Clippers lost many, many overtime games during that crazy 04-05 season. In fact, nine days before the OT loss to Boston, they had lost a similar game to the Timberwolves. After building a big lead, the Wolves came storming back in the fourth led by a player with an incredibly hot hand. That player was Sam Cassell. So sometimes when you sign a player who has killed you, it works out.