It did not take long for Tarik Black to ingratiate himself with the Lakers.
He arrived at the team’s facility on Monday introducing himself to the Lakers’ coaching staff, general manager Mitch Kupchak, trainer Gary Vitti and public relations officials. Plenty of them spent that time both exchanging pleasantries and ironing out how to pronounce his first name (TARik). The Lakers and Black will become more familiar with each other after he was recently claimed off waivers after the Houston Rockets recently released the rookie center.
Among the many questions to iron out – how much will Lakers coach Byron Scott finds minutes for Tarik in the team’s bloated frontcourt?
“I will,” Scott said. “It’s great we bring in Black. I don’t know if our guys get comfortable. I don’t like you to be comfortable to be honest with you. I don’t want our bigs to be comfortable just thinking you’ll be playing just because you’re here. This young man will come in and he’s obviously very hungry.”
Black will travel with the Lakers (9-21) for Tuesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets (13-18) at Pepsi Center. But Scott does not believe Tarik will play until he practices with the team. The Lakers might have off on Wednesday, but will likely practice on Thursday before Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center.
The Lakers have plenty of frontcourt players, including starters Ed Davis and Jordan Hill and reserves Carlos Boozer and Robert Sacre. But the Lakers have allowed a league-worst 109.2 points per game. Enter Black, the undrafted rookie out of Kansas who impressed the Houston Rockets by playing 25 games and starting 12 for an injured Dwight Howard. Black averaged 4.2 points on 54.2 percent shooting and 5.1 rebounds before the Rockets waived him to make room for Josh Smith.
“We’re all trying to get playing time because we love the game. So we want to play. But what I’m here to do is just help the team,” Black said. “We’re all teammates, we all put on the same jersey, and we should be out here for the same purpose and that’s to win. So none of my teammates, I’m not going against any of them. I just want to come in here and work hard, put my head down, put in the work I have to put and help this team win as much as I can.”
Scott ticked off several qualities that make Black a possible commodity, including his athleticism, physicality, strength, basketball IQ and defensive hustle. The NBA lists the 23-year-old Black at 6’11 at 250 pounds, but he said he actually weighs 6’9.
Black ticked off several cliches that also should please the Lakers. He gushed about the Lakers’ championship history. Black praised “the great Kobe Bryant.” Black said that “defense wins championships.” He said he has a “long way to go” to develop offensively.
Black continuously thanked the Rockets for giving him an opportunity before waiving him so the franchise could fall under the NBA’s $76.8 million luxury tax threshold. Black deflected a possible juicy storyline on if he and Bryant will share stories about Howard considering the pair’s testy relationship two seasons ago. Black just said, “we’ll have to wait and see.”
Instead, Black sounded humble about his newest venture.
“I don’t want to look at it as a chip on my shoulder as much as I’m thankful and grateful for the opportunity,” Black said. “I’m going to work hard to use the most of my blessings. This is a blessing for me and I want to actually take full advantage of it. If I’m not good enough, I can’t help that. But at the end of the day, they can say that Tarik Black came out on the floor and he played hard and he gave us what he has. Then that’s good enough for me.”
The Lakers have Black for two years, including a team option for the 2015-16 season. Scott saw the “worst case scenario” involving Black developing this season and on the Lakers’ summer league team in hopes to show vast improvement for the 2015-16 season. The best case scenario could entail giving the Lakers enough frontcourt depth to improve their inconsistent play.
“It was a no brainer for us,” Scott said. “Once he gets out here, we’ll put him out here and see what he can do.”
And that will likely involve more than the Lakers just trying to pronounce the first name of their newest acquisition correctly.
“Somebody will like me if I play as hard as I can,” Black said. “Somebody will pick me up. Somebody will give me an opportunity. And if they don’t, then hey, I just probably wasn’t good enough to do it. But thus far, that hasn’t been proven yet.”