The Los Angeles Lakers will roll into the offseason with cash to throw at the league's top available players. But they also have to spread some love closer to home—with hardworking "Big Boss" Ed Davis.
The 25-year-old, who won a national title at the University of North Carolina, will opt out of his contract in hopes of a longer deal that is at least somewhat in line with his real market value. It's a figure that's certainly higher than the minimum-salary contract he signed with the Lakers during the 2014 offseason.
Selected as the 13th overall pick in the draft by the Toronto Raptors in 2010, Davis has always been known for his blue-collar tenacity in the paint. What he hasn't yet had, however, is a lasting home in the NBA. Halfway through his third season, the 6'10" frontcourt player was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, where his minutes decreased in a supporting role behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Davis and the Grizzlies couldn’t come to terms on a contract extension before the start of his fourth season, leading to free agency last summer and a rock-bottom contract with the Lakers—one year at $981,084 and a player's option of $1.1 million.
It was always a foregone conclusion that any measure of success for the big man would lead to him opting out of the second year of the deal. And as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak noted during his recent exit interview, per Lakers.com, Davis certainly put himself in a position to do better than the current terms of his deal:
I thought he really had a very, very good season. He does several things really well. He protects the rim, he rebounds and he has great energy. He's always at practice early; he's always staying late, working on areas that he needs to work on, and there are areas that need to be worked on. But he clearly helped himself by coming here this year.
During his own exit interview, Davis made no secret of his wish to stay in Los Angeles, saying, per Lakers.com: "This is where I want to be, so hopefully I'll be back next year."
The Lakers have to prioritize their plan of action for the summer—first dealing with the draft and then deciding whether to pick up their $9 million option on Jordan Hill. That decision in particular will largely determine the team's direction in terms of free-agency spending power, especially as it relates to the "Big Boss Man."
In SB Nation's Silver Screen & Roll roundtable forecast, the subject of Davis' worth on the open market and to the organization itself was debated. The consensus on the money front was that with a rising salary cap, Davis could command somewhere in the $6-$8 million range per year. For context, in 2010, Amir Johnson signed a five-year, $34 million deal with the Toronto Raptors.
But those numbers are mitigated by the idea that acquiring an elite free agent like Kevin Love or a draft prospect like Karl-Anthony Towns could lessen the priority of re-signing Davis, especially considering that Julius Randle will be back next season.
As roundtable contributor Jameson Miller pointed out, there is also the question of how the Lakers will evolve their rebuild philosophy:
Are the Lakers going to keep shedding non-superstar salary to try and keep the deck clear for a big free-agent splash? Are they going to get on board with the trendy yet cold-hearted business of acquiring players and riding their ballistic arcs to the apex of their value before jettisoning them for greater assets? As with most things, some combination of the two is likely needed.
Despite all the variables, there is still the simplest of arguments—that the one thing the front office can't afford to do is get caught napping as another team poaches Davis away.
Regardless of the draft, Hill or players on a summer shopping list, Davis has proved he's a keeper through sheer hustle, dedication and the highest win share on the team by far at 6.3 (the next closest was Jeremy Lin at 2.7, followed by Jordan Clarkson at 2.4).
Davis was also the most efficient member of the frontcourt rotation in key areas, including scoring, offensive rebounding and shot-blocking.
|Lakers frontcourt efficiency|
|Ed Davis||.601 FG%||13.3 ORB%||4.3 BLK%||20.0 PER|
|Tarik Black||.589 FG%||11.1 ORB%||2.2 BLK%||16.3 PER|
|Jordan Hill||.459 FG%||9.9 ORB%||2.3 BLK%||16.7 PER|
|Carlos Boozer||.499 FG%||7.0 ORB%||0.6 BLK%||16.4 PER|
If there is one obvious millstone around the big man's neck, however, it is his form at the charity stripe, where he shot a pathetic 48.7 percent, a career-low mark.
Presented with such a circumstance, the former Tar Heel steps to the line with a stoic expression and heaves the ball toward the bucket like a man warding off the Devil.
As Kupchak mentioned, there are areas that need work this summer. Free-throw shooting is certainly one, but Davis also needs to develop a bit more of a mid-range game—71.6 percent of his shot attempts were point-blank this year and a staggering 96.3 percent were from within 10 feet of the basket, per Basketball-Reference.com.
During his exit interview, Davis acknowledged the need to improve in both those areas, pledging to put a lot of time in at the gym.
"I'm not going to suddenly turn my game into a stretch 4," Davis said. "But I want to improve my free-throw shooting, try to shoot in the mid-70s. Just be able to be a consistent mid-range shooter, you know, just try and hit open shots."
The 240-pound combo power forward/center should also add some muscle—as willing a defender as he is, Davis can sometimes get pushed out of position by the bigger players in the league. This is something he's worked on since he entered the NBA, and it's an area where he'll have to continue to focus.
Ultimately, the fifth-year journeyman has been a good soldier on a bad team this season—auditioning for below-market value and embracing a workman's role.
"We'd love to have Ed Davis on our team," Kupchak said during his exit interview.
How they turn that wish into a reality will be just one of many crucial decisions the Lakers must make as they head into a long, hot summer.