Cavs' Davis trying to rekindle game

Father Time eroding skills point guard had playing for Warriors

March 25, 2011|By Akron Beacon Journal

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The sweat beaded off Baron Davis' beard in a steady stream. First one drop, then another. With every word, every jaw movement, the sweat poured off his face until it looked like he was raining.

It's hard work digging through your past — especially when you're digging on bad knees and a bad back.

Davis seems invigorated by the work he has done with the Cavaliers the past few weeks. He says he is "rediscovering" things in his game that were absent during his time with the Clippers.

Now he's negotiating with Father Time and trying to put the sand back in the hourglass. Not for the final 13 games of this season, but for next year.

"My game is starting to come back to me," he said. "My main focus and goal is to come back next year with no injuries, nothing to worry about but performing at a high level and getting back to where I know I can be."

It won't be easy.

Even if the Cavaliers draft a point guard this summer, coach Byron Scott has made it clear Davis is the starter. He still hasn't gone through a full practice since his recent back injury, but he is expected to assume the role at some point in the next three weeks.

The numbers clearly indicate Davis is on the back side of his career, but Lakers legend Jerry West once told Scott he believes a player is in his prime between the ages of 29 and 33. Davis turns 32 in a few weeks.

"If that's the case, then obviously he can rediscover some things he was able to do in his younger days," Scott said. "Mentally, he's head and shoulders above a lot of guys because he understands exactly what's going on out on the floor."

Scott is convinced when he's healthy and motivated, Davis can be one of the top point guards in the league because "he brings a totally different element to the game."

He referred to Davis' time with the Warriors, when he was playing fast and loose under Don Nelson. He thought that up-tempo style best fit Davis' skill set and eventually wants the Cavs' offense to resemble that tempo.

Of course, Davis was 27 and 28 when he was averaging 21.1 points and 7.8 assists under Nelson in 2006-08. Since leaving the Warriors in 2008, Davis has averaged 14.5 points.

"He's still capable of getting assists and seeing people," Nelson said by phone from California. "When he was younger, he'd get you 20 (points) and 10 (assists). I don't know that he can do that anymore."

Nelson now is retired as the league's all-time winningest coach, but he still enjoys following the games. He disagreed slightly with West's age range for a player's prime, lowering it to around 27 to 32 years old.

Nelson's philosophy when coaching Davis was simple: Let him play. He always turned loose his most talented players and let them play the game. He said Davis doesn't have a problem running a called offensive set from the bench, but he does not want to look at his coach every time down the court.

"He's one of the brightest players I've ever coached, both on and off the floor," Nelson said. "He can do anything he wants to do. He's got that kind of mentality."

Davis doesn't sound like a man who enjoyed playing for his hometown Clippers. Many around the league aren't surprised by that because Mike Dunleavy, who coached the team when Davis arrived, has the reputation of a micromanager whose personality can clash with his players.

Davis believes it was the system in Los Angeles that led to his decrease in production, not eroding skills. There never were any plays called for him, he said, and he stopped shooting 3-pointers.

Whether he can return to being an elite point guard remains to be seen. Scott says he can, but Nelson isn't so sure. He calls former great players past their prime "the hardest guys to manage."

"Really good players, when the years start to creep in, they're not able to do what they used to and they don't see it," Nelson said. "They think they're the same player and they're not.

"One thing that's consistent in the NBA is you can't self-evaluate yourself. That's what coaches and general managers are for. There are other people who think you can and can't do it, because you always think you can do it."

Scott wants to install Davis as the starter by the end of this season to see how he plays with his teammates. Of course, many of those faces will change by the start of next season.

Scott has all but promised sweeping changes to the roster. That's to be expected since the Cavaliers are on the verge of clinching the NBA's worst record.

"I think he will really excel in our system once he gets it, which won't take him long," Scott said. "When you have a great point guard, you've got a chance to be really good as a basketball team. … I think he'll have a phenomenal year."

(Father) Time will tell.

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