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Ball Don't Lie

Baron Davis is missing Knicks games for all the right and wrong reasons

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Herb Williams and Baron Davis watch yet another missed entry pass (Getty Images)

Some guys like to practice. They like to get their act together off-record in hopes that it will lead to a greater act once the arena lights shift on. Stupid go-getters, ruining everything.

Some guys like to save it for games. It's tough to act as if the klieg or even mid-week arena lights are on during a team-centric run-through, and they'd just rather save themselves for a 40-minute turn when everyone is watching rather than slowly work up a sweat and/or rehabilitation turn in practice or during short stints during games. New York's Baron Davis, we're being told, is part of the latter crew.

Davis, who is being desperately relied upon to not only save the Knicks' season but also New York coach Mike D'Antoni's job, is struggling with a back injury in spite of not actually playing pro basketball since April 10 of last year. If you think I'm being unduly harsh, please note that Davis has been criticized for his weight and practice ethic in each of his stops from Charlotte to New Orleans to Golden State and Los Angeles. Cleveland, a team he worked with for 15 games last year, seemed to be spared. And, according to the New York Post, Davis is still at least a week away from his debut as a New York Knick:

"We all wanted things earlier,'' D'Antoni admitted. "But we want when he comes back he could stay back and not risk the in-and-out and all that stuff.''

Davis, who has not played this season because of a back injury, is expected to return to practice today. During the condensed lockout schedule, practice time is at a premium, which is why D'Antoni wanted to ease Davis in during games to remove the rust. But Davis has wanted no part of that.

Davis has been in the NBA since 1999, so he's certainly entitled to his opinion about what he expects from his body as he returns from an injury that will definitely hamstring just about any move he attempts to make on both ends of the court. But if Marc Berman's report is correct, it appears as if Baron is trying to make a major splash in his return to action (after, potentially, a 10-month layoff) rather than take in bits of playing time in order to test a historically sensitive injury and catch his damn-near-everything up to NBA speed.

The overriding issue, beyond Davis' insistence on rehabilitating his way (something that was an issue in New Orleans and Los Angeles), is the fact that New York badly needs someone that at least approaches around an NBA-average point guard. Desperately. This organizational failure isn't exactly Baron's fault, far from it, but it does leave the NBA's biggest market desperately tapping its foot while it waits for something akin to a competent player to suit up for over half a game at the point guard slot.

And the issue beyond that isn't that Davis is somehow malingering (he isn't), or taking his sweet time (ditto). We're well in favor of him sitting and not forcing his way into a random game against the Rockets in late January, because back issues are absolutely crippling to a professional athlete of any caliber.

The problem here is that Davis appears to want to run things his way. To wait until he's ready to burst onto the scene at full strength, playing huge gobs of minutes per game. And no athlete has ever been suited for that. You have to slowly work your way back. Which stinks, terribly, for anyone with an ego bigger than the size of a Le Sueur Pea. For someone with unending talent like Baron Davis, the idea of coming into a game for a struggling team for short stints has to be an anathema.

New York's regular season, even just a third of the way in, is shot. Like it was during the last lockout-shortened run in 1999, this is a team rife with potential and big names that needs to make a mid-April run just to secure a playoff berth and see what flies once the matchups set in rounds one (sweet), two (nice!), three (holy lord!), and four (no way).

Making a splash in the second week of February, or some such nonsense, is not going to change anything at this point. He has to go slow. He has to go smart. We appreciate him chomping at the bit, and we badly want to see the Baron Davis that can change things, but a bit of patience is needed.

The problem is that patience hasn't been part of the Knickerbocker vocabulary since Red Holzman was running things in the early 1970s (and not his ill-fated return to the sidelines in the late 1970s). Jeff Van Gundy's Knicks backed into it in 1999. The results may not turn out as fruitful this time around, in 2012, but Baron Davis and the Knicks would be well served to at least try.

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