Raptors' Davis likely to have contract guaranteed, but situation still uncertain

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis. (Frank Gunn/CP)

If it weren’t for what happened in his room at the Beekman Hotel in lower Manhattan on Oct. 27, there would be no questions about the second year of Terence Davis’s contract being guaranteed on Sunday, or of his future with the Toronto Raptors.

Davis, 23, was an undeniable success story in his rookie season, another example of the Raptors' ability to find and develop high-level NBA talent outside the draft lottery – in Davis’s case as an undrafted free agent.

But according to an NYPD statement, Davis returned to his hotel room at about 8:30 p.m., got into an argument with his girlfriend, hit her in the face and then broke her phone. Also in the room was the woman’s young son, who got knocked over in the altercation.

Davis was arrested and is facing seven charges, including two counts of assault in the third degree, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal mischief. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 11.

Before the incident, guaranteeing the second year of his contract for $1.52 million – something that has to happen before Monday for the Raptors to keep his rights — was the easiest decision Raptors general manager Bobby Webster had on his plate in the off-season.

It’s a trickier decision now, yet it’s almost inevitable that Davis’s contract will be guaranteed by Sunday, according to league sources.

The basketball case is obvious: Even if Davis simply replicated what he offered as a rookie – reliable three-point shooting coupled with a generous serving of explosive, game-changing athleticism – he’d be one of the better bargains in the league. But given his age and development, there was good reason to expect a bigger role for Davis in Year 2.

Davis’s goal was to parlay a big second year into a score as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021, with Fred VanVleet’s two-year, $18-million deal he signed in 2018 a handy local benchmark for an undrafted free agent.

But because the Raptors do have the option – in theory – of waiving their rights to Davis by Sunday, it has created some urgency around the question of what an organization that prides itself on promoting and supporting women in a traditionally male-dominated industry will do with a player alleged to have hit his girlfriend?

That question will eventually have to be answered, but for now there are technical matters and labour matters that hold sway before the moral, ethical and – yes – business matters come into play.

“It’s in a holding pattern right now,” was how one person with knowledge of the situation put it.

Davis’s case – and others like it – are subject to the joint NBA/NBPA policy on domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.

At that point, the league – on terms agreed on by the players union – manages the investigation and is empowered to impose discipline over and above any criminal or civil findings, including suspensions and all the way up to a league-wide ban.

But for the short term it's business as usual.

The NBA has the power to put Davis on a paid leave of absence, according to the policy, but they haven’t chosen to go that route. Now that the incident is being investigated by the league, the Raptors don’t have leeway to discipline him on their own. Davis was with the Raptors for a mini camp in Los Angeles last week and is expected to join the team for training camp this coming week.

But that doesn’t mean his future with the team is secure, or his future in the NBA for that matter.

It’s just that as the investigation is unfolding, the Raptors' options are – practically at least – limited.

Were they to waive Davis before Sunday, the NBPA would undoubtedly file a grievance, arguing – correctly — that Davis’s contract wasn’t picked up due to unproven allegations.

While the grievance was being heard the deal would remain on the Raptors' books and Davis would be paid.

Toronto would then have to prove Davis was sent packing for basketball reasons — an argument they can’t realistically win, given his on-court contributions — and then Davis and the Raptors would be back where they started.

On the other hand, the NBA isn’t conducting their investigation with an eye towards Davis’s contract situation.

If they conclude – even independent of the criminal proceeding – that Davis should be subject to discipline they will levy it, regardless of his contract status.

Based on precedent it seems likely that – short of being entirely exonerated — Davis will face some kind of suspension even if the criminal charges don’t end up being prosecuted fully.

Most recently, Darren Collison and Willie Reed were suspended for eight and six games, respectively, for domestic violence incidents involving misdemeanour assault.

It’s only after the league has taken action that the Raptors will have to make a decision on what do with a player who would otherwise have figured prominently in their plans.

If Davis is found guilty or the league does otherwise determine his actions warrant discipline, do the Raptors determine that the league’s discipline is adequate and allow Davis to pick up where he left off and hope he learns from an otherwise inexcusable moment?

Or do they decide that – for all of Davis’s potential – being associated with him is not something that aligns with their organizational values under any circumstances?

At that point, the likely move would be to find another team willing to take him on in trade for an inconsequential return. Failing that, they simply waive him, leaving his contract on their books — the price of taking a principled stand.

For the moment Terence Davis’s future in Toronto remains in doubt, but it won’t be determined before Sunday.

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