Over the summer, when Anthony Davis was working on his body, mind and psyche after yet another injury-marred campaign with the Lakers, a member of his camp expressed something dire.
“Yo, AD, we gonna get our asses run out of L.A. if we don’t get it right this year.”
If nothing else, Davis has a sense of humor, is kind and even-keeled.
He laughed when asked if he recalled that comment.
“Man, we talked about so much that I don’t even remember, to be honest,” a smiling Davis said.
What Davis does know is that the Lakers’ faithful wants to see him on the court much more than the 40 games he played last season. They want to see the best version of Davis. They want to see him reach his full potential. They want to see him dominate. They want to see him help bring the Lakers another NBA championship.
More than anything, they want to see a healthy Anthony Davis this season.
“I mean, fans are going to be fans,” Davis said. “Obviously, they want to support their team, they want the best for their team and their players. But they don’t know what happens behind the scenes. All they see is the game. So, they don’t know the stuff that really goes on behind the scenes with the team. But, at the same time, I’m the first one to look in the mirror and see how I can be better.
“I know I have to be better, for sure. I don’t need a fan to tell me that. They want to see their team win and it’s good. When I look at a fan saying all this stuff about you, they know what you can be. They know that you are whatever they think you are. You just got to go out there and do it.”
Knee and foot injuries took a toll on his body last season. That led to TNT analyst Charles Barkley giving Davis a dubious nickname.
“Yeah, I called him, ‘Street Clothes.’ I mean, he’s been hurt more than he has played,” Barkley told The Times. “I mean, I don’t know if he’s ever played 82 games.”
Davis hasn’t, Barkley was told. Davis played 75 games in back-to-back seasons from 2016-18. During his 10-year career, he’s played 55 games on average.
When Barkley’s comments were relayed to Davis, his jaw tightened and his smile disappeared. Barkley’s criticism clearly stung Davis.
“I don’t care what he says,” Davis said. “People say stuff for ratings. Like, they got to push their show, push their blog, push their podcast, whatever it is. So, people got to say something to bring in viewers. It is what it is. I go out there and play basketball and let them do their job. My job is to hoop. Their job is to talk about me.”
For what it was worth, Barkley said the nine-time All-Star’s talent is undeniable. He has proven to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA, an All-NBA player and All-Defensive team member four times.
“I said, I think it was probably six or seven years ago, I thought he was the best player in the league when he was in New Orleans,” Barkley said. “I said, ‘I think this guy is going to be the best player in the league in the next couple of years.’”
Yet with Davis, who said his back is fine and that he’ll be ready when the Lakers open the season against the defending NBA champion Warriors on Tuesday in San Francisco, it always comes back to the same theme.
“He hasn’t been healthy,” Barkley said. “And I’ll say the same thing I said last year. I said, ‘Forget about LeBron [James] and [Russell] Westbrook and everybody else — cause they had all the old-ass guys — I said unless Anthony Davis is a top-five MVP candidate the Lakers are not going to be any good.’ And I think it’s the same way this year. If he’s a top-five player, they are going to have a chance. If he’s not, they are going to be mediocre. It’s all on AD.”
Davis said, he started training two weeks after the Lakers’ season ended April 10, a season in which they failed to make the postseason. He said he didn’t make any changes to his regiment over the summer based on past results and was comfortable with how he and his team managed things. He’s listed as 253 pounds, his 6-10 frame looking more muscular.
On June 11, a video surfaced of Davis shooting with a friend and then saying, “I haven’t shot a basketball since April, maybe like April 5.”
It went viral and Lakers fans were in an uproar.
“We were done in April, or a little bit before and we weren’t practicing, so I actually started two weeks after the season, went into strength training,” he said. “I couldn’t do much and that’s why people were always talking about, ‘Oh, I didn’t shoot the ball in whatever.’ At the same time, you got to realize that my foot was still messed up. Last year, I was coming out of games taking my shoe off because my foot was so messed up. Like I said, fans don’t know about the behind the scenes. … But my strength didn’t change. I started earlier and was able to feel a lot better.”
During the 2020-21 season, he played in just 36 of the pandemic-shortened 72-game schedule, and most of those missed games were because of right calf and heel issues.
In those two seasons when he played in a career-high 75 games, he produced big-time numbers. He averaged 28 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.2 blocks and shot 50.5% from the field in 2016-17 and 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.6 blocks and shot 53.4% from the field the next season.
In 40 games with the Lakers last season, he averaged 23.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.3 blocks and shot 53.2% from the field and a woeful 18.6% from three-point range.
“I think what happened with him, the injury thing he can’t do a lot about. I think everybody is on him because, ‘Oh, he’s always injured, he’s always this, he’s always that.’ Well, part of it was because he played hard as hell,” said Alvin Gentry, a front-office executive with Sacramento who coached Davis in New Orleans during that time. “When you’re that size and you play like he did for us, you’re going to come up with some injuries here and there. So, I didn’t have a problem with it because he was a guy that wanted to play. If he couldn’t play, he couldn’t play. But all you got to do is look at his numbers when he’s on the court.
“I hear all this talk about him, but there’s not a team in the NBA that wouldn’t want him on it. I hear all this B.S. about, ‘Oh, he’s this and he’s that.’ But ask any coach and any general manager if they’d like to have him on their team.”
New Lakers coach Darvin Ham said he’s depending on Davis to be there when called upon. Whether it’s playing center or forward, Ham has outlined what he wants out of Davis.
“We talked about that in every conversation that we had in the summer,” Ham said. “I said, ‘I want you to be an animal, bro. Like we’re not going to put you in a position where you can hurt yourself. But I need you to really turn-up.’”
Lakers fans saw Davis’ dominance during the 2020 playoffs. He averaged 25.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, three assists and shot 57.1% from the field and 42.1% from three-point range in the Finals against the Miami Heat.
That’s what Lakers fans and the entire basketball community want to see again out of Davis this season.
“As far as a skill level, he should be one of the top-five players in the league,” Barkley said. “Health is No. 1 for AD. And I think the second thing is he’s got to develop a killer instinct. For the Lakers, it’s 100 percent on AD.”
Davis has heard all the noise and still does. He’s not out to prove anybody wrong, Davis said, but he does have a goal in mind.
“I only got one goal and that is to play in all 82 games,” he said. “I want to be available as much as possible for my teammates and my coaches and give ourselves a chance to win every night.”