Laker fans may have forgotten about it, but the Dwight Howard deal involved more than just acquiring the NBA’s best center.
The Lakers also picked up Chris Duhon’s two-year, $7.5-million contract, making their backcourt more bloated than your stomach feels after an afternoon at the buffet.
Steve Nash will headline the group, giving the Lakers hope that the elite 38-year-old point guard will find easier looks for Kobe Bryant, run pick-and-rolls and offer glimpses of the former “Showtime” teams. After that, the Lakers have Steve Blake as their backup along with seldom-used Darius Morris. But it’s clear Duhon has no interest in just sitting on the sideline.
“I want to play,” Duhon said in a phone interview with The Times. “My approach is to go in there and show I can play and produce. However it works out, come start of the season, I want to be in the rotation.”
It remains unclear if that unfolds once training camp begins Oct. 2.
Blake averaged only 5.2 points on 37.7% shooting last season, and the coaching staff has implored him to play more aggressively and not pick up his dribble so early. But they like Blake’s playmaking ability and relative improvement in hitting outside shots, where he hit critical three-pointers in Games 1, 4 and 7 of the Lakers’ first-round series last season against Denver.
Meanwhile, Duhon averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 19.5 minutes a game in his ninth year last season with the Magic. Even though Duhon shot 42% last season from three-point range, he lacked consistency with shots from 3 to 9 feet (23%) and 16 to 23 feet (38%). With a high turnover rate (27.6%) and low assist ratio (19%), Duhon also struggled last season in running the Magic offense.
“Sometimes you overthink and you doubt yourself a little bit,” Duhon said regarding last season. “I think you could call it a lack of confidence. It’s something I’ve been working on all summer. I put in the work and I’m here for a reason. I’m reminding myself that I’ve done what it takes. I just have to show and prove it.”
This offseason, Duhon said he spent most of his time in Santa Barbara going “back to the basics” to ensure the same issues don’t persist. Duhon said he primarily focused on his shooting and ball-handling, though he shed little on what that entailed. He also said he slimmed down from 200 pounds to 190 by going to the weight room in hopes of improving his quickness. And based on his stronger track record than Nash and Blake as a backcourt defender, Duhon believes that could earn him a ticket in the lineup.
“I’m putting in the work and obviously with the talent we’re going to have, there’s going to be a lot of open opportunities,” Duhon said. “A lot of guys on the team will demand a certain amount of attention. I have to be able to be a guy that when left open can knock down those shots.”
He sounded aware that his dream may not become a reality, but Duhon said that won’t alter his approach with the Lakers.
“I can’t have mood swings because things don’t go my way or anything like that. My job is to go out every day, practice hard and compete hard,” Duhon said. “If that results in me playing, obviously that’s what I want. But if it doesn’t, my job is just to continue to get those guys better. Obviously our goal is to win a championship.”