Magic Bolster Forward Position With Clark Signing

by John Denton

LOS ANGELES – Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford considers Houston’s Mike D’Antoni to be something of a basketball genius. So, when D’Antoni had nothing but good things to say recently about forward Gary Clark, Clifford took those words to heart.

After watching film of Clark in action while he played for the Rockets and again in practice with the Magic on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Clifford kept going back to the comments that D’Antoni had to say about Orlando’s newest addition at the forward spot.

``I’ve watched some film of (Clark) and (Magic President of Basketball Operations) Jeff (Weltman) and (GM) John (Hammond) have watched film of him,’’ said Clifford, whose Magic signed Clark to a 10-day contract on Tuesday. ``I actually went back to the internet to see what Mike D’Antoni was talking about (regarding Clark), and Mike doesn’t like guys who make mistakes. Mike reminds me of (former Magic coach) Stan (Van Gundy): When Mike says a guy is good, he’s good. All of (D’Antoni’s) quotes on Gary Clark are, `he’s smart,’ `he’s knows how to play’ and `we play well when he’s on the floor.’

``So, that’s what I see in the games,’’ Clifford added about Clark. ``I think he can help us two ways. One, he can shoot threes and two, he’s a defender. I think both his junior and senior year in his conference he was the Defensive Player of the Year. And if you watch him, he’s got good instincts, he’s a tough guy, he’s guarded a lot of good players in our league already and his team defense, he’s got good feel for it.’’

In an effort to fortify their injury-ravaged forward slots and add more 3-point shooting to their offense, the Magic added the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Clark via a 10-day contract early Tuesday. To make room for Clark, the Magic waived veteran point guard Josh Magette, who saw his first playing time in meaningful minutes on Friday in Phoenix.

Clark practiced with the Magic (19-21) on Tuesday and is hoping to be up to speed quickly enough to play against the Los Angeles Lakers (Wednesday) and Los Angeles Clippers (Thursday) at Staples Center.

``It’s not that much of a quick turnaround because I’ve been working and staying ready for the opportunity,’’ said Clark, who flew in Los Angeles on Monday night. ``I knew we were in talks and trying to figure out a situation with Orlando, so I was just pretty much being patient.’’

Clark, 25, played in 51 games with the Houston Rockets last season as a rookie and another 18 games this season prior to being waived on Jan. 7.

This season, Clark averaged 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 11.8 minutes a night over 18 games. More importantly, he shot 35.3 percent (18 of 51) from 3-point range. Clark said he prides himself on being a smart player who is willing to do whatever is necessary for his team.

``Really, with me it’s about a lot of attention to details and not just going out there and playing,’’ Clark said. ``I kept hearing Coach (Clifford) emphasizing getting caught up to speed as fast as possible. That’s one of the things back in college that I heeded – knowing what’s going on around me.’’

Orlando’s roster now stands at 17 players, including two-way players B.J. Johnson and Vic Law.

The addition of Clark – who will wear No. 12 for the Magic – was brought on by the recent losses of forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee sprain and a bone bruise) and Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee surgery).

At the time of his injury, the 6-foot-11 Isaac ranked fourth in the NBA in blocked shots and 12thin steals – one of just two players in the NBA to rank in the top 15 in both categories. Aminu, meanwhile, was Orlando’s top target in free agency back in July. It’s possible that neither player returns this season, prompting the Magic to make a move.

The Magic have tried to make do at power forward by playing converted center Khem Birch and converted small forward Wes Iwundu there. While that has worked in some instances, the Magic had trouble at that spot in Monday’s 112-111 victory in Sacramento when Kings’ power forward Nemanja Bjelica scored a career-best 34 points and made eight of 10 3-point shots.

Clark went undrafted following a stellar college career at the University of Cincinnati from 2014-18. He was the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2018 and a two-time AAC Defensive Player of the Year (2016 and ‘18) – a skill set he brought with him to the NBA.

``It’s about knowing everyone on the court – knowing the defense and knowing your teammates and their tendencies and knowing when you’ve got to overhelp and being a backline defender,’’ Clark said. ``It’s about priding myself on knowing everything and everybody’s position and the tendencies of the offensive players.’’

As a pro, he was a part of the G League champion Rio Grande Valley (Texas) Vipers in 2019 prior to getting promoted by the Rockets. Originally signed to a two-way deal by the Rockets, he made his NBA debut on Oct. 17, 2018. By Dec. 6, the Rockets converted his contract into a full-time deal.

Last season, Clark scored in double figures twice (11 points against Portland in October and 14 versus Miami in February) and he made at least one 3-pointer in 27 games. He made a career-best three 3-pointers three times as an NBA rookie.

This season, Clark had two double-digit scoring nights (12 points against Miami on Nov. 27 and 11 points versus Sacramento on Dec. 9). In the 18 games he played with the Rockets this season, he made at least one 3-pointer in 11 of them. His best shooting night of this season came on Dec. 21 at Phoenix when he made three of five 3-point shots and finished with nine points in 19 minutes.

More recently, Clark played 25 minutes for Houston on Dec. 29 in New Orleans and contributed six points, eight rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot.

After spending time with Magic assistant coach Pat Delany before and after practice on Tuesday, Clark feels he can get himself up to speed quickly and possibly be ready to play by Wednesday.

``I got a lot today, and taking it in, there are different things that they do here than when we were in Houston,’’ Clark said. ``But I think fairly quick (with his adjustment). I’m a fairly quick learner.’’

Most of this season, Magette had been on a two-way deal, meaning he spent time with Orlando and the Lakeland Magic of the G League. On Saturday, his contract was converted from a two-way contract to a 10-day deal so that Orlando could promote Law to a two-way contract. The G League leader in assists per game, Magette had three points, two assists and two rebounds in Orlando’s 98-94 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday.

The Magic still own Magette’s G League rights, so if he doesn’t join another NBA team, he will likely return to action with Lakeland.

Michael Carter-Williams, who has missed the last 11 games with a sprained left shoulder, is close to making a return after practicing fully on Sunday in Sacramento. Carter-Williams, who is one of Orlando’s most versatile players and best defenders, is officially listed as questionable to return for Wednesday. If Carter-Williams does face the Lakers on Wednesday, he will likely serve as the backup behind starter Markelle Fultz because D.J. Augustin (sore left knee) is listed as doubtful to play on Wednesday.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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