Terence Davis
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Terence Davis, who entered NBA on his own terms, already putting stamp on Raptors

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Terence Davis was miserable.

He had just addressed 40-50 family members and friends on draft night 2019. Holding back tears, he explained he wouldn’t get picked. His mind raced. He thought about providing for his son, who was born six days earlier.

“I really became a man that night,” Davis said.

Davis also put himself in position to become a successful NBA player that night.

***

The NBA G League Elite Camp offers an opportunity for less-heralded draft prospects to work out for both NBA and minor-league teams. The top performers even get promoted to the NBA combine. Forty draft-eligible players got invited to last year’s NBA G League Elite Camp.

Davis didn’t make the cut. Snubbed from an event for players not good enough for the main event.

His agent eventually campaigned him in. When Davis arrived, his jersey didn’t even have his name on the back.

He made a name for himself, anyway. Davis played well, earned an invitation to the NBA combine then continued to team workouts. By draft night, he was 80% sure he’d get picked.

“I was supposed to be selected late first round, early second,” Davis said. “That’s what I was hearing from different teams, and my agent was hearing that as well.”

But the draft went deeper and deeper without Davis’ name being called. He said a few teams offered to draft him if he’d accept a two-way contract – the Timberwolves, Celtics and another team he couldn’t recall.

“I really washed them teams from my memory, honestly,” Davis said.

He doesn’t want to prove to those teams they should have valued him more?

“I want to prove to the league that I should have been selected,” Davis said.

“I’m always out to prove. That’s just how I am, how I’m wired. I’ve been underrated my whole life, the underdog.”

Born and raised in Mississippi, Davis became a high school football star. He surprised many by choosing to play basketball in college. Davis spent four years University of Mississippi, breaking out as a sophomore then growing into an All-SEC second-teamer as a senior.

So, Davis is willing to carve his own path.

That’s why he rejected getting drafted and signing a two-way deal. Davis didn’t want to give away his exclusive negotiating rights just to get paid a relatively low salary and spend time in the NBA’s minor league. He was better off as an undrafted free agent.

It’s a path more players should take. But it’s also difficult to break from the pack when every norm says players should celebrate getting drafted.

“I’m a different breed, man,” Davis said. “Honestly. I mean that in the humblest way ever. I really look at myself as a different breed.”

Still, Davis was uncertain after the draft. Even if he had more freedom as a free agent, teams just indicated their collective disinterest by not drafting him.

Soon enough, though, Nuggets president Tim Connelly called. Davis liked the Nuggets because they had no minor-league affiliate to stash him on. And Denver, Connelly said, liked Davis. Rejuvenated by Connelly’s faith in him, Davis perked up. He agreed to play for the Nuggets in summer league.

Davis quickly impressed during scrimmages in Denver. The Nuggets went to Las Vegas, and Davis led them with 22 points in their summer-league opening win over the Magic.

After the game, Davis – still wearing Denver gear – sat in the stands when his agent informed him the Raptors would sign him to an NBA contract with a fully guaranteed salary. Davis kept asking, “Is this real?”

Later that night, Davis called Nuggets summer-league coach Jordi Fernandez to express his appreciation. After he hung up, Fernandez called his wife and said, “If this job is worth it, it’s for moments like this.”

“It’s been one of the best moments in my probably NBA career,” said Fernandez, a Denver assistant. “Because I know you may think the big stories. Yeah, a big story is when a super-high draft pick or whatever, right? But to me, this is a big story, a kid that had to go in a different route. And he was all about the right things. And he makes it. Again, it makes our lives as coaches, that’s what makes it special.”

***

After finishing summer league with the Raptors, Davis joined Toronto players to work out in Los Angeles. According to Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, Davis was quite brash during pickup games. On one hand, VanVleet found it a little naïve and tried to put the youngster in his place. On the other hand, VanVleet – whose path to the NBA as undrafted player was similar to Davis’ – appreciated the confidence.

Now, VanVleet just watches and laughs when his teammate gets going.

“He’s talking to refs, and he’s talking trash to other players,” VanVleet said. “You would think he’s been around 15 years.”

Davis just looks like he belongs.

He’s already a rotation player on one of the NBA’s top teams. His 7.7 points per game are modest, but his contributions are often more subtle. Davis leads all rookies in real plus-minus (+4.32).

Here are the rookie leaders in real plus-minus (minimum: 100 minutes):

Davis isn’t as good as, say, Ja Morant. But this shows how well Davis fills his role.

At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Davis has the athleticism for practically any matchup. He’s a dogged defender and confident shooter. He’s making 42% of his 3-pointers on a high enough volume to spread the floor.

Davis could join a rare group of undrafted All-Rookie teamers: Yogi Ferrell, Langston Galloway, Gary Neal, Jamario Moon, Walter Herrmann, Jorge Garbajosa, Marquis Daniels, Udonis Haslem, J.R. Bremer, Chucky Atkins, Matt Maloney and Larry Stewart. Only Ferrell, Galloway, Daniels, Bremer, Stewart did it in their first professional season.

Yet, Davis got bypassed for Rising Stars.

Davis didn’t make a big stink. He brushed it off as just “another time that I don’t get selected for something.” Then, he scored 31 points in Toronto’s win over the Bulls yesterday.

What if Davis were producing like this but had the stature that comes with getting drafted?

“I would be in that Rising Stars game, no doubt,” Davis said. “No doubt. ”

He’s happy with his path, though.

A big advantage: Davis can hit free agency sooner. His contract includes an unguaranteed second season, but he’s headed toward free agency (likely restricted free agency) in 2021.

Of the 30 second-round picks last year:

  • Four rejected the required tender. Without getting paid a dime, they allow their team to retain their exclusive NBA negotiating rights.
  • Eight signed a two-way contract. They got their foot in the door to the NBA, but their salaries are relatively meager.
  • Seventeen signed a three- or four-year deal. Most of those contracts include a year or two or even three of unguaranteed minimum salary on the back end. So, if the player is performing well, his team will keep him for cheap. If he’s not performing well, he’ll get cut with no severance pay.

Only Talen Horton-Tucker, the No. 46 pick who went to the Lakers, signed a standard NBA contract for fewer than three seasons.

Horton-Tucker and Davis are earning just the rookie minimum ($898,310) this season. Seven second-rounders got between $1 million and $1.5 million. But they’re all locked up at least three seasons.

It’s easy to envision Davis earning about $5 million in his third season. The second-rounders who signed for that long will receive just $1,782,621.

Of course, that’s well down the road.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse was recently looking ahead, though not that quite far ahead. Nurse believes Davis missed Rising Stars because the guard is playing too little (16.8 minutes per game) to post eye-catching numbers. It’s the consequence of joining a good team.

“Maybe next year,” Nurse said. “Can he still do it next year?”

Of course. Rising Stars is for rookies and sophomores.

But considering how much he has already done to put himself on the map, it’s easy to forget Davis is in only his first season.

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).