"The NBA is a business."
This is a quote that we hear from players all of the time, especially after a player gets traded or signs a big contract. These are the obvious examples, but this quote manifests itself in other, sneakier ways as well; an undeserving player gets minutes based on his draft position, a player who isn't meshing with his team plays more in order to be showcased for a potential trade, or a player, through no real fault of his own, gets lost in the shuffle based on other roster moves and organizational goals.
No one knows how this goes more than Ed Davis.
After being drafted No. 13 overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 2010 NBA Draft, Davis averaged a solid 7.7 points and 7.1 rebounds on 57 percent shooting in his rookie year. After putting up similar, but slightly decreased, numbers in his sophomore campaign, Davis was having a strong first half to his third season when he found out he was being shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the three-team Rudy Gay deal.
Davis struggled in Memphis, seeing his playing time decrease to 15 minutes per game during his season and-a-half there. His per-36 averages were similar, but he was stuck behind Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. When Gasol missed 23 games due to injury in the 2013-14 season, Kosta Koufos was called on to pick up the slack. Davis ended up starting four games that year.
When his contract was up after the season, Davis signed a near-minimum deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. While he performed quite well, averaging 8.3 points and 7.6 rebounds on 60 percent shooting, the Lakers were a dumpster fire. Kobe Bryant continued to be plagued with injuries, Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury 14 minutes into his career, and Carlos Boozer clearly wasn't the answer (and if he were, I don't want to know the question).
After a year of service with the Lakers, Davis signed a three-year, $20 million deal with Portland in the summer of 2015. The Blazers were starting a rebuild of their own, and already had a clear leader in Damian Lillard. CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard had broken out in the playoffs the year before, and it seemed like this might finally be the situation that would provide Davis the consistency that he needed, and maybe even a starting job.
The 6-foot-10 big man was a model of consistency in his first year with the Blazers. Davis shot a career-high 61 percent from the floor while putting up 6.5 points and 7.4 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. Meyers Leonard opened the season starting at power forward, and when he went down with a shoulder injury early in the year, youngster Noah Vonleh stepped in as a starter for the next 56 games, ostensibly in the name of player development. While Vonleh struggled somewhat, the Blazers showed incredible improvement over the course of the year. When the Blazers moved Maurice Harkless into the starting role for the last 14 games of the season, the team really caught fire.
Based on this success - not to mention making the second round of the playoffs with this lineup - Portland has seemingly committed to playing more small ball from the power forward spot, while hoping to bolster their interior defense. Adding Evan Turner all but guarantees that Al-Farouq Aminu will see even more time at power forward (where he spent 43 percent of his time last season) and, while he appeared to be the odd man out, incumbent slashing forward Harkless just inked a four-year, $40 million deal to return to the team. Meyers Leonard, who alternated between power forward and center, also returned on a four-year deal of his own.
Though undersized, Davis can play center relatively effectively. He made comments about adding 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which may help him body up more traditionally-sized centers. But Portland has significant depth at the five as well, with free agent acquisition Festus Ezeli joining incumbent starter Mason Plumlee in the rotation. Don't forget Leonard, either.
While Portland doesn't necessarily have a dominant option at either of these positions, it appears that once again Davis may find himself on the outside looking in, a victim of circumstance more than his own doing. While he does have some holes in his game (free throw shooting, underdeveloped post moves) Davis is a high-energy contributor who has shot over 56 percent from the floor over his career and has averaged nearly three offensive rebounds per game over the last two seasons. He has endeared himself as a fan favorite (full disclosure: Ed Davis is my favorite current Blazer) and by all accounts has said and done all of the right things during his tenure in Portland thus far.
But the reality is that sometimes a player can do everything right and still have things shake out against them. Portland has committed money to medium to high-upside players that now warrants them seeing time on the court, and those minutes have to come from somewhere.
There has been a lot of talk about a consolidation trade being nearly inevitable over the next 12-18 months and based on his valuable descending contract, which pays him $7 million and $6 million over the next two seasons, respectively, it makes sense that Davis could be on the move again shortly. As a fan, I would be disappointed to see him go. I love his hustle and the fact that he never tries to do too much on the court.
But Blazers GM and President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has stockpiled a lot of young assets at Davis' position, including Davis himself, and it's likely that some of these assets are going to be leveraged as best he can. For some, that means increased playing time. For others it means that they may soon find themselves in a new city, hoping to make the most of yet another opportunity.
It's how things go in the NBA, but hey - it's just business.