Name: Glen Davis
2013-2014 Key Stats: 4.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .481 fg%
Years in the NBA: 7
Years with the Clippers: 1
2013-2014 Salary: Minimum
Contract Status: Veteran's minimum player option for next season
In a Nutshell
When the Clippers used their full mid level salary cap exception to re-sign Matt Barnes and bring in backup point guard Darren Collison it made the roster two quality players deep at every perimeter position. But as of that moment, the front court consisted of starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and literally nothing else, and all the money was gone. Ignoring the unlikely possibility of a trade, Doc Rivers' only recourse would need to find his front court depth via minimum contracts, the only option left to the team under NBA salary cap rules.
Almost by definition, you're not going to get a great player on a minimum contract. Rivers could offer a players a chance to win and an opportunity to play, but most bigs worth their salt could get those things and a bit more money elsewhere. The Clippers wound up scraping the bottom of the free agency barrel to sign Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison as their opening day reserve bigs.
Rivers was rolling the dice, particularly on Mullens and Jamison (Hollins was more of known quantity). Maybe the 24 year old Mullens would figure some things out playing on a good team for a new coach. Maybe Jamison -- who joined the ultra-exclusive 20K point club during the season -- had one more year in the tank. Both could shoot face up jumpers, something Rivers desperately wanted from his back up bigs as a complement to Griffin and Jordan. Maybe one of them could be a solid contributor by the postseason.
I suspect Doc had his doubts all along, and of course neither Mullens nor Jamison panned out. But Doc always knew he had another play up his sleeve. He knew his Clippers team was a destination now, and he knew that in the modern NBA, there's a second free agency period in late February when highly paid veterans on lottery teams are bought out of their existing contracts. (In fact, right around the trade deadline Doc told Ralph Lawler "I predicted this would be a high buyout year and it looks like I was right.") The Clippers limped through the first two months of the season with a mishmash of small lineups, short painful stints from the Jamollins triplets, a failed experiment with Stephen Jackson and their fingers crossed that nothing would happen to Griffin or Jordan. Buyout season started a bit early when Hedo Turkoglu joined the team in January, but the Clippers still needed their "third big," the guy they could turn to if Griffin or Jordan had foul trouble or an injury.
Then came word out of Orlando that the Magic and Glen "Big Baby" Davis were negotiating a buy out. This was exactly what Doc was waiting for, and given the level of fit with the Clippers and the fact that Baby had played for Doc in Boston, his eventual signing with the Clippers was a fait accompli. Davis signed with the Clippers on February 24 and played his first game for the team two days later. He was an immediate upgrade over any of the other available options as a backup big that while he wasn't exactly a superstar in Los Angeles, he was still incredibly important. He logged 21 minutes in Game 1 of the first round and 18 minutes in Game 5 of the second round when the Clipper bigs got into foul trouble. The idea that those minutes could have been going to Ryan Hollins or Byron Mullens or Antawn Jamison is more than a little frightening.
Davis has one of the widest frames in the NBA (more than a little too wide when he first arrived after an unmotivated half season with Orlando) and s virtually impossible to move in the low post. This makes him a very good post defender, where he can body up against any big in the league even if he's giving away several inches in height. He's also a smart defender, positioning himself well in help situations. He's obviously more earth bound than the other Clipper bigs and doesn't provide much in the way of shot blocking, but he certainly takes up plenty of space in the lane and is quite adept at taking charges, which provides a different form of rim protection.
On offense Davis has a very reliable face up jumper out to about 18 feet. In fact, he made over 64 percent of his shots from 10 to 16 feet as a Clipper, an incredible rate in an admittedly very small sample size. In the playoffs he shot 61 percent overall, mostly on those same face up jumpers. Given Griffin's preference for getting to the rim and Jordan's complete lack of range, a big who can hit a jump shot was something Doc Rivers wanted from the day he arrived in LA. Davis is not a stretch four (in any sense of the word -- if you did stretch him he'd be well over seven feet tall) and he doesn't have three point range, but a reliable face up jumper is the next best thing. And although he looks as lacking in athleticism as any player in the league, he's actually much quicker that you might expect for a man his size. Occasionally Baby would break off a spin move on offense that would surprise everyone.
The modern NBA loves length, but there's a reason that Davis' nickname is not Long Baby. At 6'9 and somewhere well north of 300 pounds with relatively short arms, Davis' moniker is well-earned from his infantile proportions. That lack of length means that he has difficulty challenging shots when guarding centers who have significant height and especially reach advantages over him. He uses his body well to keep opponents from establishing deep position and he's essentially immovable in the post, but there's no substitute for length when challenging shots.
On the offensive end his lack of length makes finishing at the rim difficult as well. He's crafty around the basket and possesses a lot of moves, but he needs them since his shot is always going to get challenged. On a team nicknamed Lob City, Davis does his work below rim level.
Davis has better lateral quickness than you'd expect, but at his size, it's a challenge to defend the pick and roll. Partly because he was late on switches, he was pretty foul prone as a Clipper, picking up 5.6 fouls per 36 minutes in the regular season and almost as many during the playoffs.
Early in his stint with the Clippers his conditioning was terrible and he couldn't play extended minutes without running out of gas. This speaks volumes about his lack of motivation in Orlando, where he'd been playing 30 minutes a night before getting bought out. He worked hard after joining the Clippers and was in significantly better shape by the postseason, but conditioning is obviously a constant battle for Davis.
Future with the Clippers
[Note by Steve Perrin, 05/23/14 10:40 AM PDT ] In an earlier version of this post, it said that Davis is an unrestricted free agent. That is not true. He has a player option for next season at the league minimum, which for a player of his years in the league is $1,227,985. The future for Davis still boils down to a few options -- being underpaid the minimum to stay with the Clippers, making more elsewhere, or possibly getting paid by the Clippers if they choose to dip into all or part of the mid level exception. Complicating all of this is Davis' Orlando buyout. If there is an offset in the agreement (i.e. if any 2014-2015 salary is deducted from what Orlando would owe him) then next season's salary is a moot point (assuming no one is going to pay him more than $6.6M). If that is indeed the case, then it seems pretty likely he would remain with the Clippers. He'd have a good role, the money would be a wash, and he could earn his early Bird rights with the team giving him another option for next off season.
During the postseason on the Clippers' team that was perhaps a couple of breaks from the Western Conference Finals, Davis was eighth in minutes played and eighth in points scored. The first six of those players are all signed for next season, making Davis among the biggest (pun intended) roster holes for the Clippers heading into the off season. The team will have the full mid level exception to spend this season, but could choose to spend it in any one of three positions -- for a back up point guard, an upgrade on the wing or a back up big.
Davis will get over $6M from Orlando next season in the final year of his prior contract, so he may be willing to take less money to play in the right situation. He's had his greatest successes as an NBA player under Doc Rivers and the two remain close -- but the Clippers won't be able to offer him more than the minimum without dipping into their MLE, something they'd no doubt like to avoid. Can they do better than Davis for their third big? Probably not without spending the lion's share of the MLE on it. If they can convince Davis to remain with the team at below his market rate, they can spend the MLE to upgrade other roster spots with a solid front court rotation already in place.
Davis would be leaving money on the table to play for the Clippers at the minimum; he wouldn't starve (he wouldn't even have to go on a diet) because of his Orlando contract, but neither players nor agents like to leave money on the table. My guess is he doesn't play for the minimum next season, but the Clippers may yet decide that he's still their best option as a third big and dip into their MLE to keep him. He's a good player, a good fit and a good guy. He was so much better than the options on the roster at the beginning of last season that the idea of having him from the start of next season seems great.