Meeks seeks to emerge from forgotten man status

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
12:02
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Granted, the 2012-13 season was pretty crummy for every Los Angeles Lakers player, but consider the plight of Jodie Meeks.

After two and a half solid seasons in Philadelphia, where Meeks established himself as a valued contributor on playoff teams, the sweet-shooting guard signed with L.A. at a discount with the hopes of winning a ring.

While he witnessed his teammates go down left and right with injuries as the season wore on, Meeks fortunately avoided any health problems. With Kobe Bryant out with a torn Achilles tendon, it was Meeks who was on the court at shooting guard in Bryant's place in the regular-season finale against the Houston Rockets, driving baseline and throwing down a game-sealing dunk in overtime to secure L.A. the seventh seed in the postseason.

But whoever was holding the purple and gold Voodoo doll spared Meeks only for so long. He suffered a third-degree sprain in his left ankle in the Lakers' opening playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs, ending his season three games sooner than his team did after the Lakers' decimated roster was swept by the Spurs.

"It was really bad timing," Meeks told ESPNLosAngeles.com in a phone interview from his offseason home in Atlanta on Monday. "I was very frustrated just because, selfishly, I was like, ‘Man, I can get as many shots as I want now and I can’t even play.’

"I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to kind of showcase what I could do on a more productive level because the guys were hurt."

As this upcoming season approaches, all Meeks wants is that opportunity again.

"In the exit interview I sat down with Coach [Mike] D’Antoni and [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and they just said I need to come into training camp basically hitting the ground running because we’re not sure when Kobe will be back exactly," Meeks said.

Not that the job is automatically his in Bryant's absence. In the offseason the Lakers signed Nick Young, a talented wing player who is a natural shooting guard but could be relied on to play more small forward with Metta World Peace now in New York. They also brought in Jordan Farmar, who can play both guard spots. And of course there are still the Steves -- Nash and Blake -- who will command minutes in the backcourt.

Even though D'Antoni has vowed to play an 11-man rotation next season, Meeks knows that it's not realistic to think all six guards will get consistent playing time.

"I try not to worry about stuff I can’t control," Meeks said. "I have a year under my belt with Coach D’Antoni’s system so that kind of puts me ahead of the curve to start the season, but at the end of the day, you have to be productive when you get out there. My main focus is just doing that. Doing what I can when I’m out there, being productive and trying to win games. I think when that stuff happens I won’t have anything to worry about."

Meeks' productivity was unpredictable last season. He scored in double digits in 26 of the 78 games he played -- most memorably scoring 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter of an epic comeback in New Orleans and torching Denver for 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting from downtown -- but he also had 22 games with one made field goal or fewer. That is to say far too often he was a shooter who was not making shots.

Meeks, who turns 26 this week, said none other than Magic Johnson encouraged him to stay confident in his shot and play his game, something that has fueled him this summer.

While he is still undergoing rehab on his left ankle ("I tore a couple ligaments," Meeks said of the severity of the injury), he was cleared to resume full-contact drills a month and a half ago and should be fully healthy as he enters a contract year.

"I try not to think about it," Meeks said of his impending free agency following the final year on his Lakers' deal set to pay him $1.55 million. "Usually when you don’t think about things, good stuff happens, and when you think about it, you put too much pressure on it. Human nature is obviously to think about it, and I’m sure everybody knows I’m in a contract year, but you try not to worry about that kind of stuff."

Instead, Meeks stays positive when thinking about next season ("I think we’ll still have a good team and I think we’ll still make the playoffs," Meeks said) and his long-term future with the franchise ("You’re part of a high-class organization that has won a lot of championships and hopefully I can be on the next one that wins.")

And for the record, Meeks, who entered the league without a guaranteed contract as a former second-round pick by Milwaukee, has no interest in rehashing his friend Dwight Howard's decision to go to Houston.

"I don’t really get surprised with anything that happens anymore in the NBA just because it’s a business," Meeks said. "Obviously you get shook sometimes, but I just try to sit back and watch and try to survive as long as I possibly can."

Thriving in Lakers training camp from day one will do wonders for his survival.

"I think it’s more mental," Meeks said. "Telling myself that it’s a really big opportunity for myself to show what I can do. Regardless of what the situation is, I’m going into this last month, month and a half of summer training thinking I’m going to be playing major minutes or possibly starting. If that doesn’t happen, then it just doesn’t happen, but I think that’s mentally what I have to think about."

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 9.7
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksP. Gasol 1.5