NEW YORK – If you merely take a look at what Earl Clark has done this season, it would seem as if the Plainfield native and former star at Rahway High School and the University of Louisville is having a productive season for the Los Angeles Lakers with averages of 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game over 25 games.
Yes, Clark is having a nice year, but that’s not the whole story. First, Clark has gotten quality minutes out of necessity thanks to various injuries this season to Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill. Secondly, Clark only found his way to the Lakers last summer as a throwaway in the four-team, 11-player blockbuster that sent Howard to the Lakers.
No matter the circumstances, Clark, a 2006 McDonald’s All-American, has made the most of the opportunity.
“I think things are going well and I’m playing great,” Clark told SNY.tv before the Lakers took on the Nets at Barclays Center. “I just want to continue to be consistent and help my team win. We’re thirsty for wins, we’ve been in some grind-it-out games, which I think is making us a better team.”
Clark logged a total of 36 minutes over the Lakers’ first 10 games. Then, in the 12th game of the season at the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 9, the breakthrough came. With Howard, Gasol and Hill all out, Clark exploded for a career-high 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds.
Clark was named a starter soon after, flourishing with the added responsibility. He has remained a starter for head coach Mike D’Antoni even after Gasol worked his way back into the lineup from a concussion. The Lakers have won five of their last six games after a horrid start and in his last five, Clark is averaging 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds.
A key piece of Louisville’s 2009 Big East Tournament title team, Clark has picked a great time to bust out. Making just $1.24 million in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Clark may be in line for a raise this offseason.
When that time comes, the 14th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft would prefer to stay where he has made an impact after stops with the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic with a stint in China in between during the lockout last season.
“I’ve moved a lot in my NBA career so far, but this is the first organization to give me a shot,” Clark said. “I like the coaching staff here, I think we’ve got a great team and when Dwight gets healthy and we learn how to play with each other, I think we’ll only get better. I would love to stay here.”