By John Denton
December 13, 2011
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy wrapped up his post-practice pep talk to the team, asked if anyone had anything to add and then had to be surprised at what he heard next.
Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who had just finished his first practice in a Magic uniform, raised his hand and then promptly proceeded to raise some eyebrows.
Addressing the team’s three rookies – Justin Harper, DeAndre Liggins and Daniel Orton – Davis told the trio to go home, study up on the word ``family’’ and be ready to present a report to the Magic before Wednesday’s practice.
It didn’t seem to bother Davis that he is a newcomer to the team, having just had his sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics to the Magic become official a day earlier. Clearly, Big Baby was wasting little time flexing his considerable veteran muscle and making an impact on the Magic in his own special way.
``I did that basically to get into everybody’s mind around here what family means,’’ Davis said. ``We have to starting walking the way and getting a family atmosphere around here. We’re trying to change the culture here and make sure that we’re there for each other. So gave the guys a little homework.’’
The Celtics, Davis’ team the previous four seasons, popularized the phrase ``Ubuntu,’’ during their run to a NBA title in 2008. The ``Ubuntu’’ phrase stems from South African freedom leader Nelson Mandela, who described the broad concept as characteristics of unselfishness and caring that ``enable the community around you.’’
But Davis scoffed at the notion that he was copying anything from the Celtics, stressing that he had moved on from his Boston days.
``It’s not Ubuntu; it’s family,’’ he said. ``Ubuntu is with the Celtics. Family is here with Orlando. It just sets the tone. It’s a motto that we have to live by and protect each other. There are going to be arguments and fights, but we’ll be there for each other. When it comes playoff time and tough times, we can get it done.’’
Davis, all 6-foot-9 and 289 pounds of him, hopes to get it done in Orlando as a starting power forward. He spent the past four seasons backing up Kevin Garnett in Boston, and jumped at the chance to sign with the Magic because of the opportunity for a bigger role. Not only is he expected to start at power forward, but he’s also expected to be the primary backup center behind superstar Dwight Howard.
Van Gundy said that Davis told him he felt a little lost in his first practice with the Magic, but the coach is excited about what the rugged power forward can bring to the team. Van Gundy said that Davis’ toughness and smarts will make the Magic a better team on both ends of the floor.
``He clearly brings a great deal of toughness to our team and he’s a guy who will help make our players better,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Defensively, he’s very smart, he’s ahead of the play and he’s constantly talking. Offensively, he knows how to play and he’s a great screener. Our guys are going to get a lot of open shots because he sets such good screens.’’
The Magic traded Brandon Bass to Boston for Davis and shooting guard Von Wafer. Strangely enough, Bass and Davis both grew up in Baton Rouge, attended LSU and have been friends since middle school. The two had a chuckle about the swap recently, but said they understood that it’s just part of the business in the NBA.
Davis, who will celebrate his 26th birthday on New Year’s Day, had the finest of his four NBA seasons last year in Boston. He registered career highs in scoring (11.7), rebounding (5.4) and minutes played (29.5). For his career, he’s averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.
In Orlando, he’ll get an even bigger role in the offense with more shots and a steady starting slot. But mainly the Magic want him to maintain his rugged style and willingness to do the dirty work such as taking charges, fighting for rebounds and defending inside.
``That’s my role, doing the things that other people don’t even think about doing,’’ Davis said. ``I’m a guy who will set the screen, being there for the next guy and making sure that everybody is accountable and ready to play.’’
Davis is likely best remembered by Magic fans for the way he played against Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series. Filling in for the injured Garnett, Davis averaged 15 points and six rebounds in the series against the Magic. He also made a game-winning shot in the series and followed it up with an accidental bump of a fan sitting courtside. The Magic went onto to capture that series, winning a Game 7 in Boston.
His battles with Howard through the years earned the respect of the Magic center and made him one of the players that Howard hoped Orlando would pursue this summer in free agency. Davis gives the Magic their first true power forward in years, something that should make life somewhat easier inside for Orlando should he remain with the Magic all season.
``He can spread the floor, play some (center) and spread the floor by really shooting the ball well. He hit some heartbreakers against us a couple of years ago, I know that,’’ Howard said. ``He’s also a guy who can defend in the paint despite being undersized for a (center). He can bang and handle his own under the basket. So that’s good for us to have.
``Most of all, he knows how to win because he’s been to the Finals multiple times,’’ Howard continued. ``He’s a great guy to have in the locker room. He and I have been playing against one another since we were 15, so we’re finally on the same team.’’
And Howard got his first glimpse on Tuesday that the fiery Davis isn’t afraid to speak up and speak his mind.
``Well, they brought me here for a reason. They didn’t just bring me here to watch,’’ Davis said. ``I feel like there’s a lot that I bring to the table and I’m going to do it here.’’
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org
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