Over the past two weeks, I inadvertently wrote about two of the biggest bonehead trades in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise. Those being Danny Ferry for Ron Harper, and his subsequent signing to a 10-year $40 million contract, and the trade of Hall of Fame center Bill Laimbeer for Phil Hubbard. This week I decided to revisit yet another front office blunder, the acquisition of Ricky Davis. In the sign-and-trade deal, the Cavaliers got swingman Ricky Davis from the Miami Heat and forward Brian Skinner from the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors received forward Don MacLean and an undisclosed amount of cash from Miami. “Because of our lack of bigs going into the season, Skinner was the key,” Cavs general manager Jim Paxson said. “But Ricky Davis is another young, athletic player that we get a chance to look at.”
This was not a case of the Cavs getting swindled by giving up too much for what they acquired, such as the Ferry and Laimbeer deals. Ricky Davis will notoriously be remembered in NBA lore as one of the most selfish players ever. He was a cancer on the teams he played for. The real mistake was that the Cavs signed an offer sheet for Davis on August 21, 2002 matching a six year $34 million contract offered by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Davis’ agent, Dan Fegan, had said his client would rather play with the Timberwolves and that the Cavaliers would be making a mistake by locking Davis into a long-term contract. Paxson mistakenly didn’t listen, thinking the team could overcome any issues they might have with the player. Davis would reward the Cavs by constantly butting heads with coach Paul Silas, missing assignments, bone head fouls, lazy defense and his all around bad attitude.
Davis grew up in Davenport, Iowa where he was a four year starter, leading his team to the state tournament, in his junior and senior seasons. He went on to play one year at the University of Iowa before entering the 1998 NBA Draft, where he was made the 21st selection by the Charlotte Hornets. Davis had played sparingly for the Hornets, averaging 4.6 PPG over his first two seasons, before being part of a nine player deal with the Miami Heat. However, injury kept Davis out of all but 7 games in Miami, setting up the trade with the Cavs and the Raptors.
His first year in Cleveland, Davis got his first real taste of playing time, with 23.8 MPG on the floor, scoring 11.7 PPG on 48.1 percent shooting. The following season, Davis broke out for his best season in Cleveland scoring 20.6 PPG on 41 percent shooting, as his minutes nearly double. The following two seasons, Davis would score 14.4 PPG and 15.3 PPG but was in constant conflict with coach Silas. A decision had to be made about the 6’7 swingman. Not only was he a negative force on the team but he was setting a bad example for young superstar, Lebron James, whom many thought Davis was jealous of.
The last straw for Davis, and his me-before-the-team attitude, happened on March 16, 2003 during a game against Utah. With the Cavs up by over 20 and less than 10 seconds remaining, Davis took the inbounds pass and intentionally missed a shot at his own basket in order get a rebound that he thought would give him his first career triple-double. It didn’t count as a rebound, but Ricky didn’t know that at the time. For this overtly selfish act, the media dubbed him “Wrong Way Ricky”. Silas, who had periodically benched the swingman, banished him from the team for a few days before allowing him to rejoin the team.
On December 15, 2004 Davis was shipped along with center Chris Mihm, forward Michael Stewart and return a second round draft pick acquired the season before back to the Boston Celtics for Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kendrick Brown. “You simply cannot win with Ricky,” said a high-ranking Cleveland official, who ticked off a long list of missed assignments and bonehead fouls by Davis that contributed to the team’s 6-17 start. “He cost us at least eight games.” That’s also why Celtics coach Jim O’Brien was distressed by the trade: He acquired a player who loses games for two players, the 6’8 Williams and the 6’11 Battie, who learned how to win during Boston’s playoff runs of the last two years. The Davis trade also provided a sense of urgency to a Cavs team that was accepting losing as a way of life.
The Boston media criticized the team for acquiring Davis due his reputation of selfishness, but his high flying dunking act made him a fan favorite. During his three years with the Celtics, he averaged 14.1 PPG, 16.0 PPG and 19.7 PPG. However, after shooting a career high 48.8 percent, Davis’ field goal percentage dropped each year, as he continued his career long trend of taking bad shots. What might have really might have paved his way out of Boston was during the two seasons Boston made the playoffs, his scoring dipped to just 12.2 PPG.
On January 26, 2006, Davis was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves with Mark Blount, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed, and two second round draft picks for Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi, Dwayne Jones and a first round draft pick. Davis spent a year and before wearing out his welcome in Minnesota, in spite of him scoring 19.1 PPG and 17.0 PPG. On October 24, 2007, he was again traded to the Miami Heat along with teammate Mark Blount in exchange for the Heat’s Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a first-round draft pick.
The trade reunited Davis with Pat Riley, who admitted his mistake of trading him for much needed size. In spite of being welcomed with open arms by Riley, Davis’ production dropped to just 13.8 PPG on 43.3 percent shooting. Miami allowed Davis to walk via free agency at the end of the season, and on July 28, 2008, he signed a multi-year contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. After playing only 36 games, the Clippers waived Davis to end his NBA career. For his 12 year NBA career, Davis averaged 13.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 3.3 APG, while shooting 44.6 percent from the field.