But whenever Davis slips on his No. 85 game jersey, the seem fairly certain that the payoff will be measurable, altogether positive and maybe spectacular.
“When Baron comes to play, Baron’s one of the best guards in the league, hands down,” said center Tyson Chandler, who has been friends with Davis, a fellow Los Angeles native, for 15 years.
The excitement Monday surrounding Davis’s arrival — on a one-year, $1.4 million contract — was necessarily muted, every proclamation qualified by an “if” or a “when” or an “I don’t know.” Davis, 32, has a herniated disk and will spend his first weeks as a Knick doing rehabilitation exercises. How many weeks, no one seems certain yet.
Davis said he could be out for 8 to 10 weeks — a timeline that would wipe out at least 24 games in a 66-game season and place his Knicks debut in middle to late February. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who waived Davis last week, thought he might need 12 weeks.
The Knicks’ medical staff is still examining Davis and will issue its opinion soon.
“If we get to that point,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Davis’s eventual return, “which hopefully we will, we’ve got one of the better point guards in the league.”
For now, the Knicks will proceed with a rotation of Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby and hope for the best. Davis insisted that he would not need surgery.
But the questions surrounding Davis are abundant. He has a history of injuries and conditioning issues and occasional friction with coaches. His last All-Star election was in 2004, and his last playoff appearance was in 2007.
But when healthy and motivated, is among the N.B.A.’s top playmakers, with a career average of 7.3 assists a game over 12 seasons.
“This is a place I always wanted to play,” said Davis, who referred to Madison Square Garden as magical. “I always rose to the occasion when I played against the Knicks and played in the Garden.”
Davis — who was waived under a salary-cap amnesty provision — was also pursued by the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers, his hometown team. He chose the Knicks because of the Garden mystique, because of D’Antoni’s high-octane offense and because of the chance to fire passes at Amar’e Stoudemire, and Chandler on the break.
“For me, it’s going to be more of a joy,” Davis said. “We got one guy over here who can get 40. We got another guy over here who can get 40. It’s kind of like, pick your poison,” he said, referring to Anthony and Stoudemire.
A stout 6 feet 3 inches, Davis is capable of defending both guard positions. Although his weight has sometimes been an issue, he looked remarkably slim Monday as he twirled a basketball and mingled with his new teammates and coaches.
Injuries have limited Davis to 65, 75 and 58 games over the last three seasons. In this lockout-shortened season, the Knicks need him for only 40 or so, and as many playoff games as they can muster. Davis has played 46 postseason games, but he has never advanced past the second round.
But then, Davis has never been on a team with two superstars like Stoudemire and Anthony. Davis will need to evolve, from scorer to facilitator.
From his early days with the Hornets to his later stint with the Golden State Warriors, Davis has been known as a scoring point guard, averaging 19.8 points from 2001-2 through 2007-8. His average dropped by 7 points in 2008-9, his first season with the Los Angeles Clippers, and sunk to 13.1 points last season.
Davis has also been known as a freewheeling shooter whose selection and accuracy (.410 career percentage) can grate on coaches. At this stage of his career, Davis seems intent on changing his image.
“I know a lot of people don’t consider me a passer,” Davis said. “In my career, I’ve had to do a lot of scoring, but I’ve always prided myself on passing it and being an unselfish player. So I think it will give me an opportunity, and a lot of people an opportunity, to see my passing skills and see how I really direct the floor and be a leader out there on the floor.”
Stoudemire and Anthony demand a lot of touches and shots. Having a strong-willed and respected point guard like Davis is almost a necessity if the Knicks hope to get the best out of their superstars and to challenge Miami, Chicago and Boston for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Davis made his first sacrifice Monday, agreeing to sign for the veteran’s minimum. That means the Knicks’ $2.5 million cap exception remains available to sign James Posey or another versatile forward.
It may be just the first in a series of sacrifices Davis will be asked to make in pursuit of a title.
“That’s what basketball is all about, is to have that joy and to lift that trophy,” Davis said. “This is my sole motivation for coming here, is I think that we have the tools and the pieces. And if we can jell together and develop that team chemistry, I like our chances against anybody in this league.”
Steve Novak, a 3-point specialist, is expected to sign with the Knicks after he clears waivers Wednesday. Novak indicated his intentions via Twitter on Monday after he was cut by the San Antonio Spurs. Novak is expected to sign for one year at the league minimum. Yahoo Sports first reported the likely deal with the Knicks.