Ed Davis said he likes living in Portland. He loves playing for the Trail Blazers. And when his contract runs out in June, he said he hopes he is able to sign another deal to keep him in Portland.
But after seven-plus NBA seasons for four different teams, Davis knows what he thinks about an organization, and his desire to stay in a city doesn’t mean much when it comes to the NBA’s trading deadline.
The NBA is a business and sometimes, business can be cold.
“I talked about it with my lady last night,’’ Davis said. “There’s a good chance that something could happen. We have to be prepared for it.’’
The trade deadline is Feb. 8, and Davis – who is in the middle of a stellar comeback season after undergoing left shoulder surgery – figures to be one of the more attractive assets the Blazers can dangle in their pursuit to improve their roster.
Davis is not only working with an expiring contract, which can be attractive to teams interested in saving money, he has once again emerged as one of the premier backup centers in the NBA because of his rebounding, defense and ability to set sturdy screens.
What might not be known outside of Portland, and outside of the locker room, is what Davis means to the Blazers beyond the court.
Within the Blazers’ locker room, emotions run deep for Davis. He is a mentor. As straight-forward as they come. And he is an old soul who is quick to joke, but also doesn’t promote or stand for ulterior or misguided motives.
“I’m not jut saying this to say it,’’ team captain Damian Lillard said, “but it don’t get no better than Ed. That’s just the truth.”
It’s why among his teammates, there is a little more excitement, a little more umph to the celebrations when Davis excels, as was the case Friday, when he had 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the Blazers’ win at Dallas.
Sure, his stats of 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds won’t push a fantasy league owner over the top, but in the real world, where playoff appearances and championships are won with hard work and grit, Davis has established himself as a commodity.
So Feb. 8? It’s safe to say that date has the Blazers attention, particularly when the subject is Davis.
“He’s probably going to be a wanted man,’’ Lillard said.
And in a statement that will likely reverberate all the way up to Neil Olshey’s office, Lillard on Monday gave an emphatic endorsement.
Citing the bond that existed in Miami between Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, which kept them together for 13 seasons, Lillard said he wants to create the same legacy with Davis.
“Look man, for me, the same way D-Wade was in Miami all those years and Udonis Haslem was there because he brought something to the team nobody else had … that’s how I feel about Ed,’’ Lillard said. “I always want Ed to be on my team. That’s the best way I can put it. I always want him on my team.’’
Four years ago, during his only season in Los Angeles with the Lakers, Davis said his career changed.
He was one of five big men competing for playing time, and as he watched Carlos Boozer, Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly and Jordan Hill, he took notice.
“Every last one of those guys, all they did was take jump shots,’’ Davis said. “And I sense that (coach) Byron Scott was like, ‘I’m going to need somebody to do something different.’ So I said, ‘Forget this. I’m not going to take any jump shots. I’m just going to be a dawg, and that’s how I’m going to stay on the floor.’
“Ever since then, it has just stuck.’’
Davis has impacted games in several ways this season. Against Indiana this month, his offensive rebounds led to three second-chance baskets for teammates. On Friday against Dallas, he thwarted a soaring dunk attempt by Dennis Smith Jr. to protect a four-point lead in the third quarter. It was the game-changing moment of the game, as the Blazers ended up winning going away.
All told, Davis is fourth in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage, and ninth in overall rebound percentage.
Turns out, that day in Los Angeles when he realized his Lakers teammates were all the same, was the smartest thing Davis could have done.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts says that anybody who watches the team’s shooting contests can attest that Davis has a nice jumper from 15-feet. But because Davis knows, understands, and accepts his role, Stotts says he rarely attempts outside shots.
“There’s a difference between role definition and role acceptance,’’ Stotts said. “And Ed knows and accepts his role and knows he can excel in that role. Not everybody can do what Ed does. That is a talent. What he does is maybe not glamorous but it isn’t what everybody can do, and I think he takes pride in that.’’
As the 2012 trading deadline neared, Davis was enjoying the best stretch of his young career in Toronto.
As he boarded a team bus to head to Philips Arena in Atlanta, he learned that he had been traded to Memphis. Later that night, in his hotel room with his mother, Davis cried.
It was an experience that hardened him to the realities of pro sports, and it taught him to be ready for anything.
It’s why even though he is playing at the top of his game these days, he keeps a wary eye on the calendar.
“We have 15 guys on team, and I think a good 11 of the guys are like, man, I could be moved,’’ Davis said. “It’s human nature.’’
But Lillard, the team captain who recently met with owner Paul Allen to talk about the direction and plan for the team, said he hopes Davis is kept out of the Blazers’ trade talks.
“I think he just means too much to our team,’’ Lillard said. “I mean, I don’t see anybody giving us anything worth giving him up. As far as backup centers, I don’t know that there’s another backup center out there that you give up Ed Davis for. I just don’t. Not just because of his production on the court, but because of what he means to a locker room.’’
It is those intangibles – Davis’ locker room presence, his embracing of the dirty work, and the mentoring he provides to younger players – that make him so beloved among his teammates.
He can sense it and see it when he has night’s like Friday in Dallas, the bench standing and waving towels, teammates pushing his chest on the court, the non-stop ribbing in the locker room.
“Honestly, I can feel it. When I do well, I know the reaction I get from teammates and it’s genuine,’’ Davis said. “I know how it can be. I played on teams where there were guys I just didn’t like as a person. Even when they did well, I wasn’t really happy for them, because I just didn’t like them as a person. Could be because how they treated people or how they carried themselves. For me, on this team when I play well, everybody from the coaches down to last person on roster is happy for me. That means a lot.’’
He offers a valuable element to the locker room dynamic. Lillard is the unquestioned leader, but Davis – who turns 29 in June – is the resident sage, a player whose life experience is as long as his 6-foot-10 frame.
He tells the youngsters to be on time. To support teammates whether you are playing or not. And, be real.
“There is certain stuff I can relate to with guys on the team that Dame can’t,’’ Davis said. “Like, Dame has never had a DNP-Coach’s Decision … little things like that.’’
And it’s not just what Davis says, it’s how he says it. With Davis, there is no pretense, no act, no politicking. What you see, and what you hear, is 100 percent real.
“I’m not fake with nothing I do,’’ Davis said. “And I think a lot of the guys respect that.’’
Now, he and the rest of the team play the waiting game. The first domino in the 2018 trading deadline fell Monday when the Clippers reportedly sent Blake Griffin to Detroit. It will likely sink in further when the Blazers play at the Clippers Tuesday, then at Detroit next Monday.
He says he tries to narrow his focus to the next day, and the next game, but he admits it is human nature to think of what can happen.
The ultimate goal, he says, is to help the Blazers achieve their newly identified goal – securing home court advantage in the playoffs – while deepening the roots of his family in Portland (Davis has infant twins).
“I say it all the time – this is where I want to be,’’ Davis said. “When the season is over hopefully we can get a deal that works for both of us. I love the organization, I’m comfortable with the city. This is where I want to be. But at the end of the day, I understand it’s a business and there’s a lot that comes into play. But I’ve been around a little bit, and I know what I like, and what I don’t like. Being here is something I like.’’