Freeing Earl Clark


When Orlando acquired Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu from Phoenix last month for Mickael Pietrus, Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat, Earl Clark may have been considered as just another throw in to make salaries match. The second-year pro from Louisville got sporadic playing time in Phoenix and was not looking at much more time in Orlando behind Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson.

Clark is a bit of a do-everything power forward — a super athletic jack-of-all-trades, master of none — and never really found his fit in Phoenix’s free-wheeling offense. Coming to Orlando obviously would take some time.

But in the short time Clark has been in Orlando — and the short playing time he has gotten — he has shown a lot of potential. The move may have been what Clark needed to bolster his career, even if he does not get much playing time to do it.

Last night against Houston was a golden opportunity for Clark to show what he can do, and his energy mattered for a Magic team shorthanded on bigs.

Clark scored eight points on 4-for-8 shooting in 18 minutes, grabbing four rebounds as well. Clark has not been shy about shooting since moving to Orlando, but Stan Van Gundy does not necessarily mind that. He gave him high praise after the game because he was aggressive and playing hard. And more importantly he is working hard.

“I thought that Earl gave us a good lift when we needed some big minutes out of him,” Van Gundy said following Friday’s game. “I think that Earl is going to be a really, really good player. I really do. He’s offensively very talented: he’s got great quickness, he can shoot the ball, he can put it on the floor. He is a very hard-working guy. He’s the first guy in here every day. He comes in on every off day. Every game he doesn’t play in, if you go in the gym afterwards, he’s in there working out after games [at] 10 o’clock at night.”

He still has a ways to go and a mid-season trade can be difficult for young players. Van Gundy said after the trade that the other guys will adjust quicker because they have seen everything the NBA can throw at them and can adjust. Clark has not, and so he is still learning new defensive and offensive principles. All without a training camp.

Clark has only played in five games since the trade. And his numbers are similar to those when he was in Phoenix. But the coaching staff is clearly pretty impressed with what this guy will eventually do for Orlando (that is, if the team decides to resign him this summer).

He still needs to work on his mid-range jumper, but his length and speed allow him to get to the basket and score at the rim. For Clark it is still about putting all the pieces of his talent together.

His playing time will remain reduced though. Van Gundy trusts Bass and Ryan Anderson more at this point and they have proven themselves in the heat of battle. Still, when Clark gets his opportunity he should continue to impress the way he has in his five appearances so far. Even if (or when) Orlando gets a backup center, Clark will still have to pay attention to team details while working on his own game.

It is going to be tough to crack this rotation.

But the Magic might have something in Clark. Something worth holding on to and developing.