By Dan Duangdao / @DanDuangdao
After a promising rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Tarik Black was motivated to build upon his early success heading into the 2015-16 NBA season. Although the franchise had traded for Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert during the off-season, Black was projected to be the team's backup center. Unfortunately, former head coach Byron Scott expressed displeasure with Black's development and the second-year center only averaged 12.7 minutes in 39 appearances.
Although the Lakers extended a qualifying offer to make Black a restricted free agent, there was uncertainty surrounding his future with the franchise, especially after they drafted Ivica Zubac and signed Timofey Mozgov. Despite the circumstances, it was reported the franchise "never quite understood" why Scott did not play Black more minutes in his sophomore season, leaving the door open for a potential return.
When free agency officially began on July 1, general manager Mitch Kupchak stated the top priority was to improve their overall talent, especially the team's frontcourt depth. Two days later, the Lakers and Black reportedly agreed on a two-year, $13 million contract with a team option. Despite the diminished role last season, he expressed his desire to stay in Los Angeles.
"It's where I wanted to be in the first place," Black said. "I never wanted to leave anyway. I'm super happy. LA is the place I wanted to be. I take pride in wearing that jersey."
Although Black's top priority was to remain with the Lakers, he discussed his concerns with new head coach Luke Walton before ultimately re-signing. While Walton is entering his first season as the Lakers head coach, he served as an assistant coach at the University of Memphis during the 2011 NBA lockout where they developed a "pretty good" relationship.
"I don't want the ceiling to be set lower than my potential," Black recalled of his conversation with Walton. "If I can grow to be this, give me the room to grow into that."
Following their conversation, Black admitted that his existing relationship with Walton, "brought me a lot of comfort when it came to returning and trusting that I would get that opportunity." Although they only spent one season together at Memphis, the former Tiger shared that Walton still provided him with advice when the Lakers played the Golden State Warriors this past season.
While Black was promised a "fair shot" from Walton, he understands the need to earn his minutes and is excited about what lies ahead. When discussing what he has been working on this summer in preparation for the 2016-17 NBA season, Black expressed confidence in his development.
"You just have to wait and see," Black said. "I have a super high ceiling and I'm going to reach it. As far as my game, there's a lot you haven't seen yet."
As Black is set to re-sign with the Lakers, he recently drove to Las Vegas to support his teammates at the NBA Summer League. After strong performances by Zubac, D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Brandon Ingram, Black believes the storied franchise is headed in the right direction.
"They have a lot of potential," Black said. "It'll take time for it to manifest along with all of us. Julius, myself, Jordan... we're still young. We're all just trying to build. It's going to take a little time to get where we need to get to, but I think we're putting in the pieces together and with the new hire we have."
With Kobe Bryant's retirement, the Lakers enter a new era in their franchise history. Despite landing in the NBA Draft Lottery these past three seasons, there is plenty of optimism with a young head coach and core. While patience is still required as the storied franchise looks to rebuild themselves back into contenders, Black has a message for Lakers fans around the world.
"Be excited about the new era," Black said. "Give us an opportunity to make this new era our era. This is a new era of the Lakers. This is a new era of basketball, period. Allow us to define ourselves and our Lakers era."
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