As many of you no doubt saw on television Sunday, former Clipper Baron Davis suffered a gruesome knee injury in the third quarter of Game 3 between the Knicks and Heat. At the arena, they knew that he had a dislocated patella, but today it was discovered that the injury is much worse: Davis tore both his ACL and his MCL, and has a partial tear in his patellar tendon as well.
This injury isn't as bad as Shaun Livingston's knee injury from 2007 -- but it's not far behind. And at age 33, with a body that was breaking down even before this injury, facing major surgery and a minimum 12 month long recovery process, it seems inevitable that we've seen the last of Baron Davis on an NBA court.
I still recall the day that the Clippers announced that they were signing Baron back in the summer of 2008. The news was met with a euphoria similar to the 2009 lottery win that brought Blake Griffin and the trade for Chris Paul. That's not an exaggeration. Baron had just come off two of the best seasons of his career, and at the time of his signing was presumed to be partnering with Elton Brand to give the Clippers what would have been their most dynamic guard/forward tandem to that point in their history (though they've since found a better one).
A week later, Brand broke his promises to Baron and the Clippers and signed with Philadelphia. A confused Baron would be left to try to make the Clippers relevant on his own. But Baron Davis, perhaps more than any other NBA player, wears his heart on his sleeve, and he could not easily forget the betrayal he felt. Baron was never in shape his first year in L.A. and clearly lacked motivation the entire season. He had the worst statistical season of his NBA career, shooting 37% -- a really bad number even for a guy with a reputation for shooting a low percentage.
The Clippers drafted Griffin in the 2009 off-season, and it seemed to rejuvenate Baron. He came into camp in great shape, and the Clippers looked terrific in a series of pre-season wins. Unfortunately, Griffin was injured during the last of those pre-season games, and Baron was once again left to battle on without the superstar forward he thought he'd have by his side. Led by a resurgent Baron, the Clippers were hanging around .500 into January, thinking that Griffin would be back at any time and they could start a playoff push. But when the team found out that Griffin was in fact done for the season, Baron and the Clippers immediately went into a deep funk, one that eventually cost Mike Dunleavy his jobs as coach and GM of the team.
Baron's final season in L.A. did not start off well, with his new coach, Vinny Del Negro, calling him out for being out of shape. The team then got off to a terrible start, losing 13 of their first 14 games -- Baron himself missing 14 of the first 17 with various injuries. When he did start to play, his connection with Griffin was electric. For all the talk of Lob City since the acquisition of Chris Paul, there's little doubt that B-Diddy threw much more spectacular passes to Blake Superior than CP3 -- it's just that the Clippers win a lot more with Paul.
At the 2011 trade deadline, Baron's albatross of a contract, which still had two years and over $32M left on it, was sent to Cleveland for Mo Williams and about $7M in cap space -- which the Clippers used to sign Caron Butler this off season. The trade had a high cost though -- the Clippers also had to send an unprotected draft pick to Cleveland to get them to take Baron, and that pick turned into the first overall pick, Kyrie Irving.
I never liked the trade, but it could not have worked out much better for the Clippers. Although the acquisition of Chris Paul had nothing to do with shedding Baron, it clearly would have made him superfluous had he been around. Moreover, Baron has barely played his season. He was amnestied by Cleveland and then signed with the Knicks -- but he missed most of the season with a bad back even before suffering this latest injury.
Baron spent nearly three seasons playing for his home town Clippers during which time we really only saw brief glimpses of the dominant player from the Warriors and Hornets. He allowed his own misfortunes and perceived injustices -- the abdication of Brand, the injury to Griffin, his own injury struggles -- to affect his attitude far too much. Even so, when he was focused and healthy, as he was during December and January of last season, he was an exciting and dynamic playmaker, and a terrific complement to Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. Many Clipper fans will never forgive Baron for what was ultimately a lackluster tenure with the team and they are justified in feeling that way, but I can't help but feel a little sorry for the guy. His best basketball always came with a sense of joy, but far too often the Clippers were a joyless organization, and that just made it a bad fit.
I was sad to see Baron leave the Clippers. I'm particularly sad to see him suffer this devastating injury, one that will likely end his sometimes spectacular, sometimes frustrating NBA career.