CLEVELAND -- Mentioning the Warriors is all it takes. Baron Davis' eyes light up, and a smile breaks through that famous beard.
Now in his third season since leaving Golden State, it's obvious that Davis, recently acquired by the Cleveland Cavaliers, still treasures his years with the Warriors.
"I think about that a lot," Davis said after Cavs practice on Monday. "We were the most talked about team in the league. We were playing winning basketball. And then ... "
He snapped his fingers.
"It was over. I feel in Golden State, we never got a chance to take off the way it was supposed to."
On Feb. 24, just before the NBA trade deadline, Davis became big news when the Los Angeles Clippers traded him to the worst team in the league.
It seems that since leaving the Warriors, Davis' career has spiraled -- from the face of the franchise in Oakland to rookie Blake Griffin's sidekick in Los Angeles to Ramon Sessions' backup in Cleveland.
Certainly, the prevailing expectation was that he'd be unhappy in Cleveland, if he showed up at all. The Cavs are 12-50 entering Tuesday's game against the Warriors, and from Dec. 20 to Feb. 9, they lost an NBA-record 26 games in a row.
But where others see failure, Davis said he sees opportunity. He said he's excited about playing for Cleveland because in the Cavaliers he sees a return to his glory years with Golden State. For the first time since he decided to jumped ship, Davis said he sees a chance to be himself again, to play his game.
He has designs on finishing what he started with the Warriors, but in Cleveland. He has designs on creating We Believe II.
"It's the same situation as Golden State," Davis said. "Different weather, mind you. But the energy is here. I step into a situation with a bunch of young guys. The organization is great. We have really good folks that are going to push us and push me back to the top. I see this as an opportunity, more so than anything, for me to get back to where I am able to do the things that I am capable of doing."
Davis will get an up-close reminder of yesteryear Tuesday when his Cavaliers host the Warriors. Seeing the few familiar faces left -- such as guard Monta Ellis, center Andris Biedrins and coach Keith Smart -- will no doubt jog Davis' memory.
Remember the Fear the Beard signs that used to flood Oracle Arena? Remember how he set the tone for the Warriors' historic playoff upset in 2007, torching the Mavericks for 33 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the Warriors' Game 1 win at Dallas?
Remember the dunk on Andrei Kirilenko?
Davis does. He also remembers leading the Warriors to a 48-34 record the following season, the most wins ever for a team that didn't make the playoffs. These memories are at the foundation of his plans to return to his Warriors glory -- in Cleveland.
"I think he can get close," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. "His knee is still an issue. He's playing about 65 percent, 70 percent at the most. If we can get him to where he's 90 percent, he's still one of the best point guards in the league."
Said Ellis: "You can tell the old Baron is coming back. The last few games he's played with them, he's looked pretty good. I think he can do it. He's been proving people wrong for a (long time) now. I know he's going to turn it around."
Davis said he doesn't regret leaving the Warriors. He opted out of his contract on July 1, 2008, walking away from the one year and $18 million he had left so he could sign a five-year, $65 million contract with the Clippers.
Davis has been trying to recapture the magic since. In 21/2 seasons with the Clippers, he never shot better than 41.6 percent. He was down to 12.8 points per game before Los Angeles traded him, which was on pace for his lowest average since his rookie season.
Davis said his time in Los Angeles did two things: save his legs because his load wasn't nearly as heavy, and help him approach the game cerebrally instead of relying on his skills.
"My game has transitioned a lot," Davis said. "I've been able to study the game and watch the game by playing a different way. I've been kind of missing that fast-break style, the way we played with the Warriors. That's what was promised to me, that I was going to have an opportunity to run up and down the floor. The freedom wasn't there. I went to L.A. and basically played within a box. Now, I can get outside that box again."
Warriors (27-35) at Cleveland
(12-50), 4 p.m. CSNBA