The Los Angeles Lakers have had just about everything go wrong in the 2012-13 NBA season.
For starters, their most surprising and exciting offseason acquisition in the form of Steve Nash missed nearly two months of action with a broken fibula. Next, Pau Gasol not only has looked out of sorts in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s new system, but the Spaniard has missed several games of his own battling knee and head injuries. The proverbial icing on the cake, however, was when reserve big man Jordan Hill took a season-ending hip injury against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 6.
With that awful turn of events seemingly behind them, the Lakers have found a glimmer of hope in the form of fourth year pro Earl Clark, who came to the Lakers with Dwight Howard in the three-team trade involving Andrew Bynum and draft picks.
The 6-foot-10 swingman out of Louisville has been a bright spot for Los Angeles in the team’s darkest time. Before the injuries to Howard, Gasol and Hill, Clark struggled mightily to get any playing time. The low point of his season was when Nuggets head coach George Karl picked Clark as the player to shoot two free throws when Gasol suffered a concussion during the game and could not return.
He answered the call and made both in a crucial situation. Although the Lakers went on to lose that game, it was the beginning of Clark’s time as a contributing member of the team. It was his turn to step up.
In his best performance of the season, he showed up in a big way vs. the San Antonio Spurs in a game that no one gave Los Angeles a chance to even compete in by contributing 22 points and 13 rebounds. Clark also led the team from an emotional standpoint, and even in defeat, he became an instant fan favorite, trending on Twitter.
The most important thing that Clark brings is youth, athleticism and hunger. The Lakers have lacked severely in each of those aspects and will suffer even more in them with the loss of Hill.
Ironically, it was Hill who a season ago was the Lakers’ diamond-in-the-rough during a breakout series vs. the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. No one knew then that L.A. had a player who would turn out to be an integral part of the team’s energy off the bench. Hill was acquired for Derek Fisher and was effectively a throw-in piece to the deal.
If Clark proves to be a viable player for the second unit, it will make the Lakers worth talking about once they are back to full strength.
Right now, L.A. needs something, anything, to give them hope going into the All-Star break and beyond.
Michael C. Jones is the Editor of Sports Out West. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets