Baron Davis’ desire to play in New York outweighed the chance to play with Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
The veteran point guard signed with the Knicks on Monday, passing up a chance to join stronger teams because he said he always saw himself playing at Madison Square Garden.
“I always kind of rise to the occasion when I’m playing against the Knicks and playing in the Garden,” Davis said at the Knicks’ training facility. “It’s just an unbelievable opportunity and I’m ready to accept the challenge.”
Not yet, however. A herniated disc in his back has sidelined Davis all preseason, an injury he’s heard could keep him out eight to 10 weeks. But Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni hopes it will be much sooner, and the team is willing to wait for the chance to add a veteran to an inexperienced starting backcourt.
“The first order of business is just get him healthy and make sure that when he is able to play, he’s ready to go,” D’Antoni said. “If we get to that point, which hopefully we will, we’ve got one of the better point guards in the league, just adds another weapon to already a pretty good group.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers waived Davis last week and designated him as their amnesty player so the $28 million he was owed over the remaining two years of his contract wouldn’t count against their salary cap figure. No team claimed him, so he was free to sign with anyone.
His hometown Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat both called, and Davis said he even spoke to players on both teams. But he said his mind was already made up that if he got to free agency, he was going to New York—and he even agreed to accept the veteran’s minimum salary, worth about $1.4 million, to do so.
“Those teams did call and I have a great respect for both organizations, but for me it was just the opportunity to play in New York, play in the Garden, play for these fans, and to play on this team,” Davis said.
The Knicks were looking to fortify their backcourt, where they are slated to start youngsters Toney Douglas and Landry Fields, after waiving Chauncey Billups with their amnesty clause so they could afford Tyson Chandler. Though they continue to express confidence in both, both struggled in the Knicks’ victory at New Jersey on Saturday in their exhibition opener, and they decided to take a chance on Davis without even making him pass a physical first.
Davis said he doesn’t care if he supplants one of them or comes off the bench. And though he’s always been more scorer than playmaker from the point, he’s ready for that to change playing with potent scorers Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
“A big reason why I came here was because of the front line,” David said. “You just think about two 20-plus scorers on your front line and then a guy like Tyson Chandler, who’s a defensive stopper and a great defensive leader. I think you have the right complements, they all complement each other well and I think that for me it’ll be great to get out on the floor and just play with guys at that talent level.”
Davis played in 58 games last season, averaging 13.1 points and 6.7 assists for the Clippers and Cavaliers. The two-time All-Star has averaged 16.5 points and 7.3 assists since being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1999 draft.
The Knicks previously signed another veteran point guard, Mike Bibby, and D’Antoni said they would still like to find another player who can fill in at both forward spots. For now, they believe a healthy Davis, following the big acquisition of Chandler, has them closing the gap on the teams above them.
“We’re getting pretty good,” D’Antoni said. “We can always add somebody, but again it’s a little premature with Baron, we’ll have to wait until he gets well, but we’re pretty good.”