Lakers vs. Nets: Earl Clark Is Back


The Lakers play the Nets this afternoon in Brooklyn. The Nets won the first meeting 114-105 on February 20th.

A cure for under-achieving players who have failed consistently is the Mike D’antoni offense. D’antoni has a way of making unwanted players feel special as he hypnotizes them into his quick paced, quick shooting, ball movement system that he has staked his reputation on (and that many teams have copied). In 2012-13, that player was Earl Clark, a lottery pick forward out of Louisville who stretched the floor, grabbed rebounds, made timely shots and was good in the locker room. Clark’s breakthrough season in a free agent year resulted in a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers in which the Cavaliers expected he would do for them what he did for Mike D’antoni.

But, that’s a plan that always fall short because there are few D’antoni disciples and a lot of average coaches who can’t pull the best out of players. Consider Mike Brown in that old school, pre-Internet mold. Brown’s offenses have always been monotonous and dull even when he was saved by Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.

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In Cleveland last year, average talent was expected to make extraordinary plays (think Lakers 2014-15), so the very idea that Clark would get off uncontested shots with any level of efficiency was a dream destined to fall flat on its face. Clark struggled in two very distinct ways. He couldn’t match his career year with the Lakers. But, worse, he couldn’t live up to the expectations that his contract demanded as a free-range shooter who could spread the floor and deliver under pressure. In February of 2014, after four months on the Cavs sinking ship, he was waived. He made a stint with the Knicks and then he was out of the NBA.

Rumors of Clark returning to the Lakers kept the wires buzzing for about two days this fall. Clark went to China instead and then the D-league. The Brooklyn Nets signed him to a 10-day contract and his first game was Friday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, his former team. He was a bright spot off the bench, providing some of what injured forward Thaddeus Young gives, but in a much smaller dose. Still, 10-day contracts are tricky evaluation tools. Players are very desperate.

The Nets are a lame duck team. They are a 9th seed driven by the holy grail of playoff marginality. As if trying to capture the 8th seed so they can get swept by the Hawks in the first round is an appropriate way to end a season when they could not even manage a winning record.

Forget if the Nets make the playoffs or not. The Nets are a financial disaster. Old players with huge contracts who have never had playoff success are depended on to do things. Joe Johnson has one more year at $24 million. Deron Williams has two years left, $43 million. Brook Lopez has a player option for $17 million. Twelve more months of this economic disaster in which players that don’t fit one another are asked to win has to be endured.

But, the Nets are just good enough (or not miserable enough) to beat the lottery addicted Lakers. The Nets have drivers who can get to the rim and finish. They have ball handlers who can succeed in traffic. They have perimeter shooters. They have length. They have a hunger to make the playoffs. Their guards are better than the Lakers guards. Their forwards are better. Lopez is what the Lakers wish they had, a skilled seven footer. The Nets beat Lebron James and the Cavs on Friday night.

The Nets should win Sunday afternoon. The Lakers don’t want to lose and will play hard. But, the clock is ticking. The season is almost over. The Lakers lottery chances are hanging in the balance. Or, by a thread.

Next: Examining the Cap Increase and How It Affects the Lakers