Lakers forward Earl Clark, left, and Spurs guard Danny Green go after a loose… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Forward Earl Clark gave the Lakers a midseason boost when the team was riddled with injury. His stretch of strong play may make him too expensive for the Lakers to retain as a free agent.
Clark struggled his first three seasons in the league. When the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard, he was included almost as a throw-in.
Clark wasn't a part of Mike Brown's rotation. When Coach Mike D'Antoni took over, he didn't have any intention of regularly playing the 6-foot-10, 25-year-old forward.
Injuries opened up the opportunity and Clark delivered at first. He was thrown into a major role with Pau Gasol suffering a concussion (along with knee and foot issues). Jordan Hill went down with a hip injury, which opened up major minutes in the front court.
Clark went from five brief appearances in December to 10 starts in January, averaging 10.3 points. He started all 13 games for the Lakers in February, putting up 10.9 a night.
Coach Mike D'Antoni played him at both forward positions. With his agility and length, Clark showed signs of being a versatile defender.
Gradually his production tailed off and Gasol returned to the starting lineup. For the season, Clark averaged 7.3 points on 44% shooting from the field with 5.5 rebounds.
The big question is how much is he worth? In stretches he was a boost for the team. In others, he struggled.
This past season Clark was paid $1.24 million by the Lakers. He'll be a free agent as of July 1 but the Lakers can offer him up to the maximum salary to stay -- but he won't get near that.
Against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, Clark shot just 36.8% from the field for 3.5 points in 20.5 minutes a game.
His late slump may make it easier for the Lakers to retain him.
Given the franchise has very little spending power when it comes to adding players in free agency, retaining Clark may be the Lakers' best option. If he walks, the Lakers don't have an obvious replacement.
Last summer the Lakers re-signed Jordan Hill at $3.6 million a season for two years. Perhaps that's a ballpark figure for Clark, although other teams may look to out-spend the Lakers -- just for his potential.
Carl Landry of the Golden State Warriors is under contract for $4 million a year. Though Landry and Hill may give an idea of Clark's value financially, all it might take is one team with cap room or a sizable exception to lure him away.
The Lakers may be able to bring back Clark but with luxury taxes, it's a reasonable possibility they get out-bid.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.