COMMENTARY | In August 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers traded for an athletic big man who breathed new life into a flailing season, and whose passionate play restored order to dysfunction. It's unclear if he'll be back for 2013-2014, but I hope he is. At a price as low as Taylor Swift's artistic integrity, Earl Clark is a great value for a starting NBA forward. The adjective "passionate" should have clued you I wasn't talking about Dwight Howard.
Last year, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and D-12 were penciled into the Lakers' starting frontcourt, when healthy. Earl Clark filled in admirably when they were not. The Lakers' salary cap situation makes it difficult to envision Gasol, MWP and Dwight all returning next year. Pending possible trades or free agent signings, let's look at three reasons the guy called Eazy could be a nice addition to the starting lineup next season.
Versatility. Earl may not be as versatile as Lamar Odom, who could switch among all five positions on both sides of the ball. But, according to Mike Trudell's capsule analysis, Earl played point guard growing up and has shown he still has some instincts for handling the ball.
As a forward, Earl can play both the 3 and 4 positions. If Pau leaves, the Lakers can feature Earl at the 4, and if MWP leaves D'Antoni can use him at the 3. If Dwight leaves, Pau can be featured again at center, MWP at small forward at Earl at the 4. His low-post offense definitely needs some work, so let's hope he doesn't take any lessons from Dwight, but he's a capable shooter from beyond the arc and can help the Lakers stretch the floor. As for defense, he's no MWP, but he is long and sufficiently quick. Before getting fatigued late in the season, Eazy showed he could cover defensive rotations.
System fit. Mike D'Antoni's offense flows best when an effective post game is balanced by dangerous outside shooting. Speed and athleticism certainly don't hurt. Earl is an athletic (make that a Charles Barkley "ath-uh-leh-tick") 6-10 forward who averaged more than four defensive rebounds in 23 minutes of action. His game log stats show he had seven or more defensive rebounds in 16 games last year, and he played sparingly until the second week of January. Basically, he can ignite a fast break with a nice outlet past, then sprint down the court and be open for a 3-point shot, or be the sneaky trailer capitalizing on dunk opportunities.
It's hard to know what Earl's ceiling is, but it seems higher than that of either Jared Dudley or Channing Frye, and they both flourished in the D'Antoni system that Alvin Gentry used to run the Phoenix Suns to the 2010 Western Conference Finals. Who was the point guard of that team? Oh, yeah.
Value. What's the cost to bring Eazy back for next year? Probably more than courtside tickets to Game 7 of the Finals, but not much more. And value in this context isn't determined by the price tag alone. What are you getting for the price tag? Dedication, improvement, and unknown potential.
According to Mike Trudell's recap of Earl's exit interview, he definitely wants to be a Laker next year. Earl gets it; playing alongside Kobe and Steve Nash is the best place for him at this point in his career. He showed some significant, though not consistent, improvement in January and February last season. Consistency, and more improvement, will come with the off-season conditioning of someone competing for a spot on the starting five.
As for his potential, go look up the stats of Sam Perkins, Mike Miller and Donyell Marshall in their prime years. If Eazy works hard, there's no reason to think those are unreasonable expectations. They may not be All-Star worthy, but 16 points and 9 rebounds from a guy giving you maximum effort is more valuable than 20 points and 13 rebounds from a guy going through the motions. Yes, I just compared him to Dwight Howard.
It's too easy to sum up the Lakers' issues by saying they're old. Yes, they need youth and athleticism. They also need more 3-point shooting, they need to win the 50/50 balls, they can't take plays off, and they need more versatility on both sides of the ball. Earl Clark can provide all those intangibles, and he has shown enough promise to deserve a shot at competing for the starting lineup next year.
Not all starters need to be stars. A.C. Green, Rick Fox and Ron Harper have started on champion Lakers teams. Why spend $10 on a 12-pack of Miller Lite if you can buy 24 cans of Guinness on sale for $20? Lakers fans want a good value on some Guinness.Lucas Tucker has been watching the Los Angeles Lakers since 1983.
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- Los Angeles Lakers
- Earl Clark