NBA AM: Larkin Explains His Move to Spain

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In Shane Larkin’s first three NBA seasons, he played for three different teams (the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets) as well as four different head coaches (Rick Carlisle, Derek Fisher, Lionel Hollins and Tony Brown).

This upcoming season, the No. 18 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft will play for the Spanish club Baskonia after signing with them this offseason. The 23-year-old point guard will join fellow former NBA players Andrea Bargnani, Roddy Beaubois and Tornike Shengelia on the Spanish squad. Larkin and Bargnani will be teammates for the third straight year, as they also suited up together on the Knicks and Nets.

Over the course of his three-year NBA career, Larkin averaged 5.8 points, 3.2 assists, two rebounds and 1.1 steals while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. Last year, he averaged 7.3 points, 4.4 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 22.4 minutes for Brooklyn. His per-100-possession stats were 16.3 points, 9.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals. After Larkin completes this season in Spain, the unrestricted free agent wants to return to the NBA.

Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Larkin to discuss his decision to sign with Baskonia, why he’s bounced around the NBA early in his career, what he hopes to accomplish while in Spain and more.

Basketball Insiders: One thing you told me before free agency was that you were determined to find a good situation, a good fit. Was your decision to sign overseas mainly about not finding the right situation in the NBA due to interested teams having a lack of playing time or offering only a partial guarantee?

Shane Larkin: “Yes, for sure. I had to switch agents halfway through free agency because I didn’t really like the direction I was heading with my former agent. But when I signed with Jim Tanner, he laid out all of the options on the table. With what was presented to me, I felt like this opportunity in Spain – on a historically good team that has had multiple pros come through this specific club – was my best option that late in free agency.”

BI: What stood out about Baskonia as you were making your decision? Why did you ultimately decide to sign with them?

Larkin: “They have had multiple pros come through this club and I believe that, in many ways, I can grow on this team. I can’t name every single pro who has come through here, but I know of Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni, Luis Scola, Mirza Teletovic and Tiago Splitter to name a few. So it is obvious that the culture is very good, and the level of coaching and competition is very high. I believe that with this great opportunity I have been given, I can grow here as a person and as a player. That’s what is best for me at this point in my young career.”

BI: This team has a lot of talent when you look at the roster. You’re teaming up with former NBA players Andrea Bargnani, Roddy Beaubois and Toko Shengelia among others. How good can this team be and what are your expectations entering the season?

Larkin: “I believe we have a lot of talent on this roster. We can be really good. Obviously, the goal is to win championships, so hopefully we can grow very well together as a team and win as many of them as we can. I say championships because we play both in the Spanish league and the Euroleague, which are two different championships.

“I want to win Euroleague and win the Spanish league. I want to be the best point guard in Europe. That doesn’t necessarily mean scoring the most points or having the most assists, just being the point guard who did whatever he needed to do on a nightly basis to help his team win. If we win, everything else will take care of itself.”

BI: Was there any part of you that was hesitant to go overseas? Sometimes players don’t want to give up the NBA lifestyle, or they are worried that they’ll never be able to get back to the NBA if they sign with an international team. Were you hesitant at all, and did those things cross your mind?

Larkin: “In all honesty, I wasn’t very hesitant at all. The NBA lifestyle is amazing, but I don’t play in the NBA because of the lifestyle. I play in the NBA because I love to play basketball at the highest level of competition. And with you saying players worry about not making it back into the NBA, that isn’t a concern of mine at all. I had several teams interested in me this summer and a few things – but nothing in regards to how I played – factored into how everything played out. Some are things I can control and some are things I couldn’t, but I think my new representation and new perspective on what it takes to be an everyday pros-pro will land me back in the league in no time. When that happens, I can grow and be more successful than I had been previously – especially after showing my abilities this year when put into a position where I can play my game in some ways.”

BI: Going overseas also presents somewhat of an adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take in a new culture and gain a lot of life experience. How excited are you about this?

Larkin: “I’m very excited about this opportunity. I actually love the Spanish culture, which is one of the reasons I live in Miami during the offseason. It’s probably the most Spanish place in the U.S. My dad is actually fluent in Spanish and has wanted my siblings and I to learn Spanish forever. Overall, this will be a great experience that will only make me a better person and a better player. I’m definitely excited for it and grateful.”

BI: As you went through the free agency process, what was going through your mind? Especially as you saw other players coming off of the board, with many signing large contracts.

Larkin: “Man, this summer was insane (laughs). You had some guys going from playing low minutes per game to signing large contracts over multiple years, so it was definitely crazy. Last year as a free agent, I signed on the first day so I didn’t go through the whole process. This year, it was definitely a new experience with the cap jump and all of that. But at the end of the day, I’m happy for everybody who got paid this summer because I know the hard work you have to put in and the sacrifices you have to make in order to make it into the NBA. And oftentimes the players who don’t play as much just need the opportunity, so hopefully all of the guys people are saying don’t deserve their money play well and show their worth.”

BI: Do you feel that some of the players who signed these significant contracts with NBA teams this summer are less talented than you? I know that’s a common feeling for players.

Larkin: “No doubt about it (laughs). If you look at a lot of the guys who signed deals this summer and you look at my numbers per-36-minutes, it’s a toss up or I have better stats – and that goes for people who signed for $50 million to $15 million. But in a lot of ways, the NBA is all about perception. If you’re on a good team and you play minutes – regardless of if you produce or not – you’re viewed as a ‘winner’ and being a ‘winner’ goes a long way in the eyes of general managers and decision-makers around the league. So even though my stats are better or even, and I’m younger, and I have more potential than a lot of these guys, being on two different teams that had losing seasons hurt my overall perception in teams’ eyes. But no question about it, in my mind, I’m better than and have more potential than some of the guys who signed deals this summer. That is no shot to their games, I’m just a confident person and I know what I’m capable of if placed in the right situation with the right team around me.”

BI: In the past, we’ve talked about the chip you have on your shoulder. How much did the events of this summer add to that chip and further fuel your fire to prove yourself?

Larkin: “Maaannn, if I had a chip before, the chip has grown to the size of a damn building. Never in my life have I been so determined and motivated. A lot of stuff happened off of the court this summer that has added fuel to my fire as well. But I’m not one to talk about what I’m going to do, I just go do it and let my play speak for itself.”

BI: As I’ve pointed out in the past, you’ve done well when given significant playing time. Why do you think you’ve bounced around the NBA and what have you learned (as a player and as a person) from your career thus far?

Larkin: “I think I just haven’t been placed in the most ideal situations. In the three years I have played in the NBA, I would say that Dallas was the best situation. Dallas is an amazing franchise with great people on the staff – inside and outside of the locker room – and being drafted there was a great opportunity for me. Unfortunately, I broke my ankle two weeks after the draft and I missed all of Summer League, preseason and about the first 15-20 games of the season. So when given the opportunity to play, I had no reps against actual NBA players and the last time I had played was in March of my college season. Then, having to adjust to playing with guys the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter from playing with your college teammates, it was a huge adjustment and in a lot of ways I deferred to them and just tried to stay out of their way instead of using my talents and my abilities to help them and become a regular contributor on that team. I had a few good games that season where I showed my talent and potential, but by the time I got comfortable and healthy, Devin Harris had come back from injury. At that point, we were in the playoff race so Coach [Rick] Carlisle, who typically doesn’t play rookies that much, went with the more proven and trusted player – which I cannot be mad at or upset with him about because we did push the eventual champions to seven games that year and it was a great experience. I really wish I would have had a different experience there and not broken my ankle and had the path that I had because my game is very similar to J.J. Barea, who has had an amazing career there. I feel as though I could be doing the same, if not better, if given that same opportunity. But I will say, I wasn’t as mature and professional as I should have been when I was in Dallas and I made some mistakes that I shouldn’t have as a young player. That’s something that I do regret because I feel as though that could have been the perfect place for me to grow.

“My second year with the Knicks was very different for me as a basketball player and it was tough. As everybody knows, Phil Jackson had just taken over as president and Derek Fisher had become the head coach and they wanted to implement the Triangle offense. Everybody on that roster that year had a tough time adjusting to the Triangle and we had a terrible year – myself included. I had always been a basketball player who created plays for others with my speed and quickness and ball-handling ability. But in the Triangle offense, the offense makes the plays based on the reads of your teammates and the defense so it was a huge adjustment for us all, but specifically me as a play-making point guard. And actually, when you look at that roster on paper, it was pretty good. It just didn’t mesh well with the Triangle offense, which is probably why the only people left on the team from that season are Carmelo Anthony and Lance Thomas (who was there half of the year). That was just a tough season overall. We actually started strong, but we didn’t keep it up and kept losing. Then at the All-Star break, they decided to trade J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and waive Amar’e Stoudemire, so we basically started over with a bunch of young guys and we just didn’t have enough talent to win games after that. Losing was tough, and losing in front of the passionate fan base that the Knicks have was tough. Madison Square Garden was a wonderful place to play and it was a great experience. I just wish we could have been a better team that season and won more games because when you win there, it is a special place. And I wish I could have been a part of that. I still go back and forth with some of the Knicks fans on Twitter or Instagram so imagine [the support] if we would have won that year? They were great fans, like personal hound dogs for anybody who would talk about anybody in the Knicks (laughs).

“Finally, this past year with Brooklyn started off being a great situation. GM Billy King called me at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2015, and I signed a few days later. They wanted me to come in, be myself, play my game and help the team win. And to start the season, I was doing that at a very high level. I was shooting 50 percent from the field and around 46 percent from three, and just being confident in being myself on the court. There were several articles and media outlets saying, ‘Larkin finally found his niche’ and, ‘This could be a breakout year’ and, ‘He finally turned himself into a rotation player and serviceable back up.’ Everything was going well for me personally too. We, as a team, just weren’t winning enough games. After about 30 games, they changed everything. They fired the coach, reassigned the GM and everything went haywire. Imagine playing on an NBA team with no coach and no GM. There was no direction and the interim coach Tony Brown was just kind of told to do whatever. It’s tough for anybody – coaches and players – to be in that position, but we all tried to make it work. Tony did his best and we all as players played hard and tried to win games. And with the position we were in, I think we all did a good job – including the coaches. Once all of that happened, it was kind of a roller coaster ride for me. I would play well one game and then not so well and then average and then well again – all across the board. It was just hard to find consistency. Then, they hired Sean Marks as the GM and I ended up starting the last 13 games of the year or something like that. We won two in a row against Cleveland and Indiana, and I had two good games. Then, they decided to sit Thad Young and Brook Lopez, who were our two most talented offensive players, for the rest of the season. So I was starting with other players who were talented, but not to the level of those two. I feel like in the games I started with Brook and Thad, I showed I could be a spot starter. But once they sat, that opportunity left as well. It was a roller coaster ride this past season, but I feel like I showed my talent and my potential again.

“Overall, I’m grateful for the three different situations to showcase my talent and be in three great franchises. But with each situation, it has been tough and not the best for a young player trying to find himself early in his career. Also, playing for four different coaches in three years is difficult because, regardless of the coach, they are going to want you to do different things based on their preferences. But, like I said, I am grateful for every situation because it has taught me a valuable lesson about what you have to do in the league: Be yourself and be the ultimate professional. You have to play your game and do the things that you did to got you there. You can’t please everybody, but if you go out and play your game and be yourself then they will accept it because they brought you in for that reason. With my current situation in Spain, that is what I’m focused on – getting back to being that same guy I was at the University of Miami, the one who got drafted 18th overall because of his play and the one who has all the potential to be a great player in the NBA.

“My goal is to get back to being who I am as a player – a nightmare in the pick-and-roll because I can shoot it and go by you and, defensively, being the same pest that led the ACC in steals my sophomore year. I want to just basically get back to being that guy, only now being better because I am stronger, faster and mentally tougher now than I have ever been in my career.”