The comparisons between Devin Ebanks and Trevor Ariza never end.
They look alike. They both have unassuming personalities. In separate seasons, the Lakers appreciated their respective growth at small forward.
Yet, as Ebanks becomes an restricted free agent this summer, his agent wants him to avoid the same fate that befell Ariza. The Lakers allowed Ariza to walk as a free agent in 2009 to the Houston Rockets in what essentially became a swap for Ron Artest. Since then, Ariza has toiled with the Rockets and the New Orleans Hornets, who finished last in the Western Conference this season
"I don't really hear much about him anymore," said David Bauman, Ebanks' agent, of Ariza in a phone interview with The Times. "You can go for the money and go for broke. But then sometimes you're done."
It's far too early to foretell Ebanks' future.
After meeting with Lakers Coach Mike Brown and General Manager Mitch Kupchak in his exit interview on Tuesday, Ebanks said, "They seemed pretty interested in me." Ebanks added, "I'd love to stay in L.A. and continue my career here."
Whether that happens depends on to what degree the Lakers believe in his long-term potential and how much Ebanks values his minutes.The Lakers will also have to weigh whether they'll waive Metta World Peace via the amnesty provision and let Matt Barnes leave as an unrestricted free agent. With Ebanks being a restricted free agent, the Lakers could match any offer.
"The biggest factor for me, obviously, is I want to get time on the floor," said Ebanks, who averaged four points on 41.6% shooting in 16.5 minutes per game this season. "I want to get an opportunity, but I know that's going to take hard work from myself. I need to improve this summer and make the coaches more comfortable in throwing me out there on the floor."
To do so, Ebanks says he plans to stay in Los Angeles and train at the Lakers' practice facilities as his free agency approaches. He also pledges he'll follow the advice in his exit interview about the need to get stronger, improve his mid-range shooting and be prepared to play both at small forward and shooting guard.
In his second season with the Lakers, Ebanks said he "definitely" sensed an increased role, but it often involved constant lineup shuffling. After earning the starting nod for the first four games, Ebanks dropped down toward the end of the bench behind Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes. He even spent time in the Development League.
Ebanks' role changed, though, because of external circumstances. He started at shooting guard for seven games in April, while Kobe Bryant nursed a left shin injury. Ebanks then started at small forward for seven games, including six in the postseason, while World Peace served a suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden a week before the playoffs started.
"It was tough, not playing and then getting thrown in the fire again," Ebanks said. "It was an up and down thing. But it's part of the business and you have to stay professional."
During Bryant's absence, Ebanks averaged 6.5 points on 43.5% shooting and three rebounds. During World Peace's suspension, he posted double-digit points in two of the seven games. With Matt Barnes struggles thoughout the postseason, Brown inserted Ebanks at backup small forward in the Lakers' 106-90 Game 5 loss Monday to Oklahoma City. He had two points and two blocks in 16 minutes. The results were hardly spectacular, but he made the Lakers coaching staff comfortable enough they could feature him in the rotation without worrying he'd make significant mistakes.
That's why Bauman said he wants assurances from the Lakers that Ebanks won't have the same role.
"We're not looking to move. We're just looking for a chance to play. If Mitch and Mike decide that Devin's a guy who can get some playing time next year and would make us a decent offer, we would consider it," Bauman said. "It comes down to playing time. We won't do the minimum with the Lakers if someone offers him a multiyear deal. At the same time, we want to be smart about it. But Devin absolutely cannot go one more year where he's just sitting on the bench. We're in a situation where he has to play. If the Lakers say they're going to play him and we'll get the right deal, we'll do it. If not, we'll see what's out there."