The Los Angeles Lakers are in an odd transitional phase these days, one in which they must secure talent to keep Kobe Bryant sane while also making sure not to tie up cap space for a serious rebuild in a couple of years.
Which is what makes their phenomenal signing of Ed Davis—a young, talented forward with a track record that hints at tons of upside—so impressive.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported the deal and its terms first:
Free agent forward Ed Davis has reached agreement on a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, league source tells Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 17, 2014
Davis' deal is two years, $2M, with a player option on the 2015-'16 season.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 17, 2014
In a vacuum, Davis is a terrific get. He's a long, rangy big who possesses quickness that doesn't belong in a 6'11" frame. The lefty moves extremely well, and though he doesn't have a highly polished post arsenal, his touch and tough-to-time delivery makes him effective around the rim.
In his career, Davis has converted an excellent 69.6 percent of his shots from 0-3 feet, per Basketball-Reference.com. Last season, he made 64.8 percent of his attempts in the restricted area, per NBA.com. Neither of those numbers are elite, but they're both quite good.
For some context, Davis' restricted-area percentage last season ranked right above Tim Duncan and right below Kevin Love. He's outside the top 25 in that stat among qualified players, but not by much. That's great value on a dirt-cheap deal.
At 25, Davis is entering his fifth season. On the one hand, that kind of experience indicates there might not be much room for him to grow. It's a rare player who makes a substantial leap at this juncture.
But Davis' career progression is somewhat atypical. He was buried behind Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol with the Memphis Grizzlies last year, and he never really found a niche in his stint with the Toronto Raptors. Basically, there's a sense that Davis has some real talent hidden inside him, and that he just needs the right situation to let it out.
There's good reason to believe that's the case.
Davis was the No. 13 overall pick out of North Carolina in 2010, and he's certainly had moments that hinted at his potential:
Plus, he's been something of an analytics darling. For his career, Davis' player efficiency rating is 15.9, per Basketball-Reference.com, a figure that checks out comfortably above average. And in 2012-13, that figure climbed as high as 17.8 which, for reference, is higher than the numbers put up last year by guys like Marcin Gortat, Tiago Splitter, Taj Gibson and David West—just to name a few.
No wonder, then, that a who's who of the NBA's sharpest minds loved the Lakers' move to acquire him. In fact, I'd say incredulity was the prevailing sentiment:
Can't really think of any reason Ed Davis should get such a small contract. Great signing by the Lakers. Bizarre market.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 17, 2014
Add Ed Davis to your list of the summer's best contracts.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) July 17, 2014
Ed Davis is the absolute steal of free agency so far. If one team gets him for the minimum, then the 29 others made a mistake somewhere.— Mark Deeks (@MarkDeeksNBA) July 17, 2014
If Davis' deal seems too good to be true for the Lakers, maybe it is. Guys slip through the cracks all the time, but rarely to this degree. Lingering concerns about Davis' attitude could be the reason why those other 29 clubs didn't see fit to pursue him seriously.
Up front, it's only fair to mention that there's very little about Davis' possible attitude issues in the open record. Instead, we've got mild anecdotal evidence that could point to some problem areas.
For instance, he never got along with former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. We can infer that from a couple of incidents during Davis' time in Memphis.
First, there was the exchange on Twitter between Davis and Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, in which Davis responded to the heat he caught for not playing summer league, via NBCSports.com. The upshot of that exchange was Davis' final tweet (since deleted), in which he fired back against reports that he declined requests to attend summer league by tweeting: "yea I was asked by a coach who doesn't have a job right now."
Later, in a feature by Eric Koreen of the National Post, Davis said of his relationship with new Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger:
A better relationship. Being able to talk to him, just him talking to me, telling me exactly what he wants from me. He’s definitely a players’ coach. He understands us. He’s going to be a great head coach. It’s a good thing.
That's another tacit reference to what was a less-than-perfect relationship with Hollins.
But hey, Davis wouldn't be the first young player to clash with an old-school, defense-first coach. And unless you're really digging for something, there's just not much out there that says Davis is a bad guy.
Still, it's strange that a player with all of Davis' physical tools and small-sample-size production couldn't find meaningful minutes at any point in his career. Even when Gasol went down for an extended stretch last season, Davis didn't see any significant gains in his production.
From December 17 to January 31, Davis saw his most consistent playing time. Gasol was sidelined for almost all of that stretch with a knee injury, but even then, Davis only mustered 19.5 minutes per game, according to NBA.com.
A guy that talented—who can score at the basket, rebound outside his area and turn away shots effectively—shouldn't have spent his career looking for a way to crack a rotation. Make no mistake, there's some mystery surrounding Davis.
Fortunately for the Lakers, it's likely a mystery we'll see solved this season.
Davis is going to get his chance in Los Angeles.
Instead of fighting for minutes with established stars like Gasol and Randolph, Davis will be battling it out with NBA flotsam like Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre. And in place of differences with his coach, Davis will, well...not have a coach at all.
At least until the Lakers finally, inevitably hire Byron Scott.
Most of all, Davis won't have any excuses. There are loads of available minutes up front for him, and aside from rookie Julius Randle, nobody on L.A.'s roster has much of a future with the team. The Lakers will have a vested interest in seeing what Davis can do.
So, Lakers fans, that's everything there is to know about Davis and, admittedly, it's not much. I'm guessing this year, finally, we'll find out the rest.