Amid all the unanswered questions surrounding how the Lakers assemble their roster this offseason, it appears they reached clarity on one matter.
It appears the Lakers seem set on retaining rookie forward/center Tarik Black, who has a non-guaranteed contract worth $850,000 next season.
“We get another year to look at him,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said, “and see what he’s got and go from there.”
That should give Black some added relief in finding some relative stability. He spent the last year going undrafted and then playing 25 games for the Houston Rockets before they cut him to sign free-agent Josh Smith after Detroit surprisingly waived him.
After the Lakers (21-58) picked him up through the waiver wire in late December, Black enters Sunday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks (48-31) at Staples Center averaging 7.2 points on 55.6 percent shooting and six rebounds through 35 games. He has also averaged 9.5 points on a 60 percent clip and 6.9 rebounds in the past 17 games as a starter, a stretch that included four double doubles and a career-high 18 points in Friday’s win against Minnesota.
Yet, Black pointed to his surprise cut from Houston as “exactly why it doesn’t give me added comfort.”
“I would like to believe they would like to keep me. But going into the summer, you never know what will happen,” Black said. “Either way, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity and have been very fortunate with guys having my back 100 percent and carrying me along the way. That’s what I’m going to keep hanging my hat on. I’ll keep living in the moment and allow God to do what he does for me.”
Scott loves Black’s hustle, athleticism and positive attitude. Scott also called Black the team’s best defensive communicator. But with Black planning to play on the Lakers’ summer league squad in July, Scott seems focused on two areas that he wants more from Black.
First, Scott believes the 6’11, 257-pound Black uses roughly half of his strength and speed that evoked comparisons to bruising Denver forward Kenneth Faried.
“It’s playing every play like it’s your last play,” Scott said. “Every shot that goes up, you have to play like it’s a miss. Every time we rebound, if he doesn’t rebound, he has to run the floor like it’s a 100-yard dash. If he does that, it’ll put so much pressure on his bigs to get back.”
Second, Scott envisioned Black playing mostly at power forward and would like him to develop a consistent mid-range jumper. For the past month, Black has worked with Lakers assistant coaches Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis both on his shooting technique and taking jump shots anywhere between 17 to 18 feet both after practice and during pre-game warmups. Scott predicted Black “will be in this league for a long time” should that translate into games.
“Our hopes is that he implements that into his game next year so he will be more of an offensive threat,” Scott said. “When he does catch the ball at the free throw line, guys aren’t just backing off. Then if he makes that shot on a consistent basis, it makes him that much more dangerous.”
It turns out Black has tried to expand those boundaries. He was seen before Friday’s game taking three-pointers in warmups. What started out as a ritual to end his workout with two made three-pointers soon morphed into his actual preparation.
“He can shoot threes in warmups,” Scott said, laughing. “But that is not something he will be doing during the game unless it’s 3, 2, 1 and you have to shoot it.”
Black sounded receptive to all the ideas and repeatedly credited the coaching staff for his development.
“I want to be the best I can be. I want to be the greatest player I have the potential I can become.” Black said. “I really don’t understand how to use it fully right now. But that’s a good thing. I look at it as a plus because it shows potential and an area I have to grow. Once I step up and do interviews and not talking about I have to get something better at, it means I peaked out.”