Earl Clark, that is.
The fourth-year forward's rise from benchwarmer/afterthought to starter for the Los Angeles Lakers has been but one of the countless stranger-than-fiction storylines that have defined the team's journey through the 2012-13 NBA season so far.
To be sure, the Lakers have encountered far more important developments than Clark's during this most "eventful" of campaigns.
The firing of Mike Brown, the (surprise) hiring of Mike D'Antoni, the injuries to Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard; the constant postgame sniping; Gasol's demotion to the bench; and the recent turn of Kobe Bryant from scorer extraordinaire to Magic Johnson reincarnate have each grabbed many more headlines and had a more profound impact on the Lakers' fortunes in recent months than has the rise of "Earlsanity."
That being said, the emergence of a "rags-to-riches" tale amidst a star-crossed season may turn out to be the most fascinating and most enduring of all by the time this team turns in its 82nd performance in mid-April. But before that day comes, let's have a look back at how the man they call "EZ" became an integral part of the Purple and Gold.
August 10th, 2012
Earl Clark is traded to the Lakers—as a throw-in. He and Chris Duhon are essentially the riff-raff that make the four-team Dwight Howard mega-deal work under the league's new collective bargaining agreement.
Despite his role as essentially the lubricant of a blockbuster trade, Clark isn't granted his own press conference.
November 4th, 2012
Clark plays his first minutes—1:56, to be exact—in a Lakers uniform. It's against the Detroit Pistons, in the waning moments of a 108-79 blowout. Clark replaces Jordan Hill with the gap already at 25 points.
EZ's lone statistical contribution? A foul on Jonas Jerebko with 19 seconds remaining.
November 11th, 2012
Earlsanity begins...sort of. He scores his first points in Purple and Gold—on a 17-foot jumper assisted by Darius Johnson-Odom—with 1:14 remaining in the Lakers' 103-90 annihilation of the Sacramento Kings.
November 16th, 2012
Another first for Clark. He pulls down his first rebound as a Laker with 36 seconds remaining in a 114-102 win over the Phoenix Suns, the team that took Earl with the 14th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
The revenge is presumably sweet.
November 24th, 2012
Earl announces himself as a "defensive force" with his first block in Purple and Gold—on a 19-foot jumper by rookie Jae Crowder—during "garbage time" in a 115-89 non-contest against the Dallas Mavericks. Clark also picks up a pair of fouls, in addition to a rebound and one point from his first trip to the free-throw line since arriving in LA.
December 4th, 2012
At long last, Clark plays significant, meaningful minutes (11:27) in a close game. The Lakers lose to the Houston Rockets, 107-105, dropping their record when Earl plays to 4-1. But he comes away with four points, three rebounds, a block, a turnover and a foul—a veritable cornucopia of statistical achievements.
EZ can (and probably does) thank Pau Gasol's tendinitis-ravaged knees for the opportunity.
January 8th, 2013
After a month replete with "DNP-CDs," Earl finds himself back in the rotation. Again, the playing time comes in Houston and, again, it's on account of injuries—Howard's shoulder, Hill's hip and Gasol's concussion.
In their stead, Clark scores five points on a subpar 2-of-8 shooting, but impresses onlookers with his energy, athleticism and hustle on the way to wrangling nine rebounds, three assists and a block in 20:34. Mike D'Antoni is none too pleased with the result (a 125-112 loss to the Rockets) but is likely intrigued by Clark's contributions.
January 9th, 2013
The next night, the short-handed Lakers nearly knock off the mighty San Antonio Spurs, thanks in no small part to Clark. He sets new career highs in points (22, on 9-of-12 from the field) and rebounds (13) in 27:33.
Unfortunately, the Lakers lose their fifth in a row, 108-105, with Clark getting up the last shot on a desperate three-point attempt. Even so, Mike D'Antoni is impressed by what he sees, telling Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:
"I hope he surprised me. Otherwise, I'm an idiot for not playing him. Anybody who plays that well deserves definitely a second, third, fourth look."
January 11th, 2013
As promised, Clark gets another look, this time in his first start as a Laker. He registers his second consecutive double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) to go along with three assists, three blocks and a steal in 36:37.
But even EZ's best efforts aren't enough to rescue LA from a 116-101 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder that isn't nearly as close as the final score might suggest. It's also the Lakers' sixth loss in a row.
January 13th, 2013
Earl gets his first "W" as a starter—a 113-93 thrashing of the Cleveland Cavaliers—while playing next to Dwight Howard. Clark plays a game-high 36:09, during which he tallies 13 points (on 5-of-9 shooting with one three pointer), nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
January 17th, 2013
Pau Gasol returns from his concussion, but in a reserve role, leaving EZ to start at power forward. The Lakers lose to the defending-champion Miami Heat, 99-90, in an ugly game that's surprisingly winnable for LA. Gasol plays three more minutes than Clark and registers more points (12 to six) and assists (four to two), but Earl tops Pau in rebounds (seven to four).
January 20th, 2013
Earl and Pau switch places. Both register solid games—14 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for the former, a season-high 25 points and five rebounds for the latter—but the Lakers lose to the lowly Toronto Raptors, 108-103, after Dwight Howard is ejected in the first half.
January 21st, 2013
Despite Gasol's apparent breakthrough, Mike D'Antoni declares that Earl will start at power forward for the foreseeable future (via Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register):
KEVIN DING @KevinDing
D'Antoni wants to play his way: small. "We're better when we're small." Earl Clark is the new starting power forward.1/22/2013, 1:25:30 AM
Predictably enough, Lakerland erupts in a fit of confusion—nothing against Clark, of course. That night, the Lakers suffer through a lethargic 95-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. Clark chips in 12 points (on 6-of-13 shooting), eight rebounds and two blocks.
January 23rd, 2013
The Lakers hold a contentious, clear-the-air team meeting prior to a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, their fourth in as many games. Presumably, Clark is showered with praise from his coaches and teammates, and single-handedly diffuses a dangerous situation between Kobe and Dwight.
January 27th, 2013
Earl's numbers against the Thunder (11 points, four rebounds, one steal) aren't particularly impressive, but his efforts, especially on the defensive end, are central to a 105-96 win. Clark helps Metta World Peace and Kobe combine to limit Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to 16-of-48 shooting from the field.
January 29th, 2013
EZ puts together one of his finest performances of the season in a 111-106 win over the New Orleans Hornets. In 35:16, Clark scores 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting (including 4-of-5 from three), collects 12 boards and drops four dimes.
His career-high six turnovers aren't particularly sightly, but they don't keep him from playing in crunch time while Pau (seven points, seven rebounds, seven assists) stews on the bench.
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