Friday, January 28, 2022

LeBron James has wanted to bring Malik Monk to Lakers since last season: ‘It still doesn’t make sense to me’

Malik Monk’s career didn’t exactly get off to the start he’d hoped for. His first few seasons were derailed by a crowded Charlotte Hornets backcourt and a drug suspension, and that forced him to accept a minimum-salary deal with the Los Angeles Lakers to try to get back on track. That decision is paying serious dividends. After a slow start, Monk is averaging nearly 21 points across his last six games. The Lakers have won three straight, and with Monk playing this well, he’s all but assured himself a continued place in their starting lineup. 

It’s a turnaround that is surprising almost everybody … except for LeBron James. As he revealed after Monk’s 24-point outing in a win over the Sacramento Kings Tuesday, he’s had his eye on Monk for quite some time. Last season, he and Jason Kidd even schemed to bring him to Los Angeles. 

“It’s funny, just a little quick backstory, me and J-Kidd, we talk a lot last year,” James said. “We wanted him last year. When Charlotte stopped playing him last year, or they would play him, and then sit him for five or six games, and then they would play him, and then you would see him have a game at Miami where he had like eight or nine 3s in Miami, and then they would sit him and not play him. Me and J-Kidd, we would talk all the time, like ‘is there a way we can snatch this guy from their roster?’ 

“So through patience and good timing we were able to get him in the summertime this summer, which still doesn’t make sense to me, but we’re happy to have him. He’s a dynamic player and I always just think about that two-headed monster they had at Kentucky with both of those guy, him and De’Aaron (Fox). They literally were just electrifying, taking turns. So we’re happy to have him here.”

The idea of Monk on last season’s roster is fairly tantalizing. The Lakers had defensive-minded guards in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso to help protect Monk on that end of the floor. The Hornets, with LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier entrenched, likely would have been open to trading Monk for a reasonable price. It’s hard not to wonder how a scorer like Monk would have impacted the Lakers in their first-round matchup with the Phoenix Suns. Dennis Schroder scored eight total points in Games 4 and 5 of that series. Maybe Monk could have made a difference. Maybe his presence could’ve gotten the Lakers out of the play-in round entirely and allowed them to avoid the Suns in the first round.

This entire season of Lakers history might be different if the Lakers had only acquired Monk a year earlier. Perhaps the Russell Westbrook trade never comes. But better late than never. LeBron saw something in Monk. The front office agreed, and now he’s become one of their most reliable players as they attempt to fight their way back into the championship picture. 

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