Earl Clark wasn’t supposed to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. If all had gone as planned, he would be playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the upcoming season, after signing a two-year deal worth $9 million with the team last offseason. When Clark inked the contract, it seemed like he had finally found a home and some security after playing for three teams (the Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic and L.A. Lakers) in his first four NBA seasons.
However, Clark was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline along with Henry Sims and two future second-round picks in exchange for Spencer Hawes. Philadelphia, in tank mode, waived Clark and just like that he was back in the free agent pool seven months after putting pen to paper on his contract with Cleveland. The following week, the New York Knicks signed Clark to a 10-day contract, followed by a second 10-day deal, but ultimately decided not to guarantee his contract for the remainder of the season.
That’s how Clark finished the season as a free agent, watching the final month of the 2013-14 campaign from his home. Now, he is ready to get back into the league and finally settle down somewhere.
When given minutes throughout his career, Clark has shown that he can be a significant contributor. He’s a versatile, two-way player who can play multiple positions and he believes he has proven that he belongs in the league.
“This is going to be my sixth year in the NBA, and I feel like I’ve been through a lot,” Clark told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like I’ve shown people over and over [what I can do]. I had to prove myself. I’ve been coached by many different coaches and survived. I went to different teams and didn’t burn any bridges; it’s hard to do that in this league. Now, I’m definitely looking for minutes – an opportunity to get out there and play my game. … Over and over, I’ve survived and once they put me out there, I do my job. That’s all I can say; that’s all I can live for. Whichever teams calls my name and gives me that opportunity, I’m going to be ready to play.”
Remember, just two seasons ago Clark played very well for the Lakers, initially thriving as a reserve and then replacing Pau Gasol in Mike D’Antoni’s starting lineup for 36 games (in which he averaged 9 points, 6.8 rebounds and nearly a block and a steal). It was this breakout season that led the Cavaliers to sign Clark, and he believes he can produce at that level again if put in the right situation and given the opportunity to play.
“When I was with the Lakers, I got the opportunity to get out there and play some big minutes – I didn’t have to look at the bench every possession to see if I was coming out,” Clark said. “It was the first time where I felt good, where I was comfortable playing basketball again. That’s something that I’m looking for.”
Clark has received interest from a number of teams since free agency started three weeks ago, but he continues to weigh his options. He understands that this is an important year for him and he wants to make sure he lands in the right situation, one that will allow him to showcase his skill set and salvage his career. For the first time since he was drafted in 2009, Clark found himself unemployed during a season when he was waived last March. He doesn’t want to end up on the outside of the NBA looking in again, which is why he’s taking his time with this free agency decision and carefully considering every opportunity.
“I’ve been hearing from a few teams, but it’s not anything that I’m jumping at right now,” Clark said. “It’s been different, man. I’ve been a free agent a few times and this summer seems like it’s going in slow motion. I’m just giving it time and going through the process. I just want the right situation and the opportunity to play. That’s all I want – the opportunity to get out there, play, help the team and prove myself again.”
When Clark entered the NBA, he was just a kid. Now, he has grown up, started a family and is very different from the player who began his career in Phoenix. The 26-year-old is married with two kids, and he says that he has really matured in recent years.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Clark said. “When I first came in to the league, I was just eager to get on the floor and play and prove myself. I wasn’t really thinking about the business aspect of basketball, the other side of it. Now it’s different, having a family, being married. I’m 26. I was younger then. When you come into the league, you’re 21 or 22 years old. At 26 years old, the life you live is different. You grow up fast. It’s just a whole different way of life; it’s just different now. I’m different, and I see the game differently now. It’s slowing down for me.”
Clark has been training every day, bulking up and working on his jump shot.
“I’ve been training down here at a local gym where I live; it’s been basically what I do every summer,” Clark said. “I’m continuing to shoot and work on my game. The thing that I did more this summer is that I tried to get a lot stronger. I usually don’t lift as much in the summertime, but I tried to dedicate time to working on my body. That’s really something that I’m into. Other than that, I’m just getting up a lot of shots, trying to improve my three-point percentage every year like I always do.”
While the last year has been tough for Clark, he still has a lot to offer a team.
“I feel like I play both sides of the ball, I can definitely guard anybody out there on the floor, I can rebound with the best of them and I can play multiple positions,” Clark said when asked why a team should sign him. “I’m a stretch-four or a three, wherever you want to play me. I run the floor. I’ve been here six years, I feel like I showed a lot of what I can do when the opportunity and the minutes are given. I’m just looking for somebody to give me that and to believe in me.”
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