Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Baron Davis’s main role in the second half of the Knicks’ season will be to shake off the rust and give Jeremy Lin some much needed rest.
But Davis should have added motivation to perform well in the team’s first game after the All-Star break Wednesday.
That’s because the Knicks (17-18) are facing the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-18), the outfit that amnestied Davis in December after they had drafted former Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick star Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft.
“It’s basketball,” Davis, who signed for the $1.5 million veteran’s minimum and is still owed $21 million by the Cavs, said Tuesday after practice.
“Anytime I step on the floor, I feel motivated. It’s no hard feelings against the Cleveland Cavaliers. We pretty much knew what was going to happen and they treated me well while I was there so nothing but love for them.”
Though he’s just 19, Irving won MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, going for 34 points and making all eight 3-point attempts.
“I got a chance to showcase my talents a little bit in an All-Star game,” Irving told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “It was a special opportunity. My dad was proud, my family was proud. … It was good experience for the first half.”
The former Duke standout leads all NBA rookies in scoring at 18.1 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field.
While Irving appears to have a lofty ceiling and long playing career ahead, Davis is simply trying to round back into form after missing the first two months of the season with a herniated disc in his back.
In three games since returning, Davis is 1-for-12 from the field with 10 assists and seven turnovers.
He said he still thinks about his back during games.
“I just have to be patient with myself,” he said. “This will be my fourth game and this is my second practice so I just gotta keep working hard and keep working at it. I’m still in the rehab process.”
In an ideal situation, Davis will progress to the point where he can spell Lin for 10-15 minutes and be effective.
“That’ll help for sure if he can take some time off and obviously, I don’t think he’s doing a bad job,” said Lin, who averaged 22.6 points, 8.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds during the team’s 9-3 surge.
“He’s going in there, finding the open people. I’m learning from watching Baron as well. Obviously, he’s a vet and he has a lot of wisdom and he shares that with me. And he’s been very helpful for me.”
Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni said it could take another month before Davis is really back in form, and also likes the idea of playing he and Lin together at times.
“Don’t forget if Baron Davis gets the rust off and gets back to where he was we’re talking about one of the best, talented point guards in the league,” D’Antoni said. “That’s the plan and a month from now he’s got to be ready to roll and be his old self. If he can do that, that’s a two-headed monster, and they can play together, that will be great.”
In addition to Davis, D’Antoni’s ample bench also includes J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Jared Jeffries and rookies Iman Shumpert and Josh Harrellson, who both returned Tuesday from injuries. Shumpert was battling tendinitis that caused him to miss three games before the break and Harrellson has been out since late January with a fractured right wrist.
D’Antoni said both would play Wednesday.
D’Antoni’s job will be to balance all the minutes while trying to keep everyone happy.
“It’s not humanely possible to play 12 guys in a normal rotation,” D’Antoni said. “Ten probably, 11 maybe.
“The idea is you got to be ready because who doesn’t play today might play tomorrow. It might be 10-man rotation for back-to-backs, but it might not be the same 10.”
Still, once Davis gets into shape and Smith acclimates himself to the offense, the Knicks will have one of the deepest — and most dangerous — benches in the NBA.
“When you look at the type of talent that we have coming off the bench,” Davis said, “you know it’s pretty scary to a lot of other teams that have to play us so we want to use that to our advantage every time we step out on the floor.”
Photo: Getty Images
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.