Marcus Landry Fighting for a Chance
By Trevor Wong
It’s a Thursday morning in mid-September, about two weeks before training camp begins, and Marcus Landry is finishing up his workout inside the Lakers practice facility. One by one, his shots from the perimeter fall through the net.
For Landry to see the jerseys hanging on the walls of the Toyota Sports Center, and the championship trophies looking down from Jeanie Buss’s office, it’s like a dream come true. As a kid, he rooted for the purple and gold.
“Wherever (Shaquille O’Neal) went, I went” Landry said. “He was my favorite player of all time. When he was with Orlando that was my favorite team. When he got traded to Los Angeles, I was all about the Lakers.”
Landry’s short career in the NBA till this point – 18 games – started with a training camp invite from the New York Knicks in 2009, then coached by Mike D’Antoni.
But since, he’s played overseas in four different countries, first in Puerto Rico, Spain, China and then Venezuela. Landry has also had three stints in the D-League, spending one year with the Maine Red Claws and two with the Reno Bighorns.
As Landry moves around the perimeter, the ball falls through the net again and again and again.
“He really has a unique way to score the ball,” said current Arizona State basketball associate head coach Eric Musselman. “At the D-League level, he was a premier scorer.”
For Landry, for whatever reason, the chips haven’t fallen the right way. He hasn’t caught on with an NBA team since his rookie season four years ago. But he’s here now with the Lakers playing for D’Antoni once again fighting for a spot on the opening-day roster.
“He’s always in an uphill battle to make a team, but I’ll tell you what, any team will be lucky to have him,” D’Antoni said.
Around the World
Landry did make the opening-day roster for the New York Knicks in 2009, but his stint was short-lived in the Big Apple. He was traded to the Boston Celtics in February of 2010, appeared in one game and then was sent down to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League, all during his rookie year.
“It was tough,” Landry said. “For me, it was a learning experience and it wasn’t the best experience for me. I was young and I didn’t know much.”
From there, Landry went overseas, first to Puerto Rico.
“It almost seemed like everybody was against you,” Landry recalled. “It was like every man for himself. If you weren’t going to get the ball, or weren’t performing to a certain level, it was really hard for you to stay. But you were alone, and you have to perform. On top of that, the general managers and coaches want you to perform.”
He was in China during the lockout year in 2011-12, where he played with the Shanghai Sharks, along with other NBA players, including Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Aaron Brooks. He appreciates Yao Ming, current president of the club, for giving him an opportunity.
“The people were genuine and great,” Landry said. Yao Ming treated me really well when I came there. I owe a lot to him for taking a chance on me to come play there.”
There were charter flights, five-star hotels and the good food Landry raved about, particularly the dim sum. He maintains China was the best of all the experiences he played to this point because the fans were so welcoming.
“I remember getting in at 2 a.m. at the airport and people would be waiting for me,” Landry said. “It was crazy.”
In the D-League, though, the lifestyle was much different. In his three years there, the last two in Reno, Nev., Landry recalls the traveling during back-to-back games, like the six- or seven-hour bus ride after a night game from Sioux Falls to Idaho the next evening.
“It was rough,” Landry said. “But if you can survive those things, you can survive anything. It’s basically a test. I take it as a test of your will.”
Being tested throughout his professional hoops journey was nothing new to Landry. His older brother, Carl, who currently plays for the Sacramento Kings has carved out a niche in the league and played for multiple franchises in his career. Growing up, Carl described Marcus as a “fighter.”
Marcus fondly remembers what irritated him as a kid: “Growing up, he knew I couldn’t go left,” he said. “He would play me and make me drive left all the time. I used to hate it, but that made me want to develop that part of my game.”
Marcus always strived to better than his brother, whether that be in school or sports. It was that fighting spirit in him. But most of all, the imprint his older brother left on him was the leadership, guidance and direction he gave.
“His advice to me was: play hard, stay within yourself and don’t try to be somebody you’re not,” he said. “When you go into a situation, know what they’re looking for. Show them you’re the one that can fulfill what they’re looking for.”
Finding a Niche
Last season, the Lakers ranked 19th in the league in three-point field goal percentage (35.5), but attempted nearly 25 per game – third-most in the league behind New York and Houston.
That three-point shot might be something the Lakers look, particularly for D’Antoni’s offensive system that relies on ball movement and floor spacing.
“I know he shoots better than what he has shown,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll get nine three’s up because he knows how to play and he’s open. He’s our best shooter, probably.”
Last year in the D-League, Landry shot 42.8 percent from the three-point line and won the 2013 NBA Developmental League Three-Point Shootout. During the 2010-11 season under Musselman in Reno, Landry averaged 17.1 points per game, while shooting 38.5 percent on three’s. He led the D-League in three-point field goals made (105) and helped lead that team to a 34-16 record – second best in the league.
But no NBA teams called Landry up from the D-League. Nobody was asking for his services.
“I thought he was the best player in the D-League when he played in Reno that did not get called up,” Musselman said.
That Reno team also featured Danny Green, starting shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs, Jeremy Lin, starting point guard for the Houston Rockets and Steve Novak, who was a key reserve for the New York Knicks the last two seasons.
“I thought Marcus had as much NBA ability as any of them,” Musselman said.
Even after pit stops in four different countries, from the East Coast with Maine back to the West Coast in Reno, Landry remains driven in large part because of his family.
“That was probably the hardest thing, going and being away from my family,” Landry said. “That was tough. I knew what I was doing it for. They kept me focused.”
His wife, Efueko, played basketball at Marquette. He also has three young children: Marcus Jr., 8, Moriah, 7, and Makylah, 5.
“(Marcus) is an unbelievable guy,” Musselman said. “On a scale of 1-10 as far as character, he’s a 10. He’s a guy that you root for and want to do well.”
Lakers assistant coach, Dan D’Antoni, who coached Landry in New York for the summer league team in 2009 and again this summer for the Lakers, echoed similar sentiments.
“When you speak to him or you are around him, you get a sense that he has strong character,” he said, “and you get a sense that he is very comfortable with who he is.”
That comfort level can be seen on the court, too, as Landry continues to knock down perimeter shots and finish his workout after nearly all the players have left the court. His former coach, Musselman, believes if Landry is given the right fit, he can and will flourish.
“He’s no different than Danny Green in the fact that Danny needed an opportunity,” Musselman said. “Marcus needs an opportunity, and if he gets an opportunity to get on the floor, I think he will succeed and carve out a nice role.”