Four months ago, Earl Clark reached a troubling career crossroads. The Phoenix Suns declined to pick up their $2 million option to keep him for the 2011-12 season, an unconventional move that ensured Clark will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Two months ago, the Suns severed their ties with Clark by including him in the blockbuster trade that sent Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu to the Orlando Magic for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus.
These days, much has changed for the young, 6-foot-10 forward.
A few months from now, at playoff time, the Magic might ask Clark to guard power forwards such as Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett or small forwards such as Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, LeBron James and Paul Pierce.
“He doesn’t have the experience of having seen every NBA situation,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
“But I think his potential as a defensive player and as a defensive impact guy is unlimited if he can get down some better team defensive principles and focus and if he can truly understand that his route to being a special player in this league lies at the defensive end.”
The final month and a half will be crucial for Clark, who has played in only 19 games for the Magic and played a total of just 60 regular-season games for the Suns.
From now until mid-April, he can prove to his coaches that he can be counted on in crucial situations.
Given that head coach Stan Van Gundy has entrusted Earl Clark to defend the likes of Kevin Durant, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony in recent games, this is something to keep an eye on — especially with the playoffs steadily approaching.