Former Laker guard Marcelo Huertas spent an unceremonious season-and-a-half with the Lakers, finding himself often on the end of the bench when he wasn’t heaving up backwards three-pointers.
Huertas’ time in Los Angeles, and in the NBA, came to an end last season at the trade deadline when the Lakers moved him for Tyler Ennis. And while he become a cult hero of sorts, his time in L.A. was very forgettable.
All that makes his recent interview with Brazilian website UOL all the more….interesting.
The interview, which is (roughly) translated into English thanks to Reddit user rodfg150, goes into Huertas’ two seasons with the Lakers where he talks about the chaos of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour and his frustrations.
BNC: It is inevitable to ask you: after two years without playing much in the NBA, can you say that it was not worth having gone to the United States having the prestige you have in Europe?
HUERTAS: I do not agree with that. It was worth it, no doubt. The experience was incredible. I learned a lot. Unfortunately things in the NBA depend on where you are, the moment, the purpose of the franchise, innumerable factors that interfere in the day to day. They interfere with the campaign, the performance, the opportunities. For me it was very complicated because people talk, they talk about what they think, what they see, but basically few know how things are. In the first year was very complicated because it was a team in rebuilding, farewell to Kobe Bryant, parties, the team had no goal, focus.
Kobe wasn’t playing well anymore, could not take the team in the back, youngsters who needed to have the protagonism great could not take over. Although the preseason was good, I ended up being out of rotation and it took me a while to get back. In the end of season I played well, where I showed my game. At the end of the tournament coach Byron Scott left, Mitch Kupchak, the general manager, told me that they would make the qualified offer for me not only for what I ended up playing, but mainly for what I represented in the locker room, for the professionalism, these things. When they came back and chose Luke Walton, Luke called me and said, “I want you to stay, it’s important for the system, it’s going to change a lot. We will have a more open style, speed, open field. We need a guy like you. ” And he praised me a lot, asked me to stay. I said, “I’ll be very honest, Luke. I’ll stay if I will be part of the rotation. ” I was in conversation with other teams. I did not want it to happen that same thing happened to Byron. I asked for his sincerity. If it was not for me to play, I’d go to another team. But he told me he wanted me. I gave my word, he gave his, I knew everyone, and I thought I would have some continuity.
In the middle of that they chose the Brandon Ingram, high pick, wing. In the pre-season a lot of people said that Nick Young would not stay, but Nick was the best player in the preseason. In the locker room he is excited, up and the board decided to keep it. That was a big setback, as they had hit with also winged Luol Deng, Nick stayed and the back-ups were Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams. How was Ingram going to play? How would the front-office (board) respond to the fans? What happened? They put the Ingram as PG even without him having the slightest notion of how to be PG. He was super shy even inside the court. I think that was very clear. Our team was wrong about that. D’Angelo Russell is a point guard but much more scorer than an organizer. The guy coming out of the bench needed to come in and control the team because it was a crazy shot after another. We often saw how the games in five minutes went to the marsh. Someone needed to control this rhythm. Calderon and I were harmed. All this for Ingram to leave the bench and play.
Huertas went on to talk about his conversations with Luke Walton and eventually the front office prior to his trade.
BNC: This all with you in the bench. Did not they say anything?
HUERTAS: In December Luke came to talk to me. “I know I told you that you would play, but now the team is in place. I’m not going to be able to handle the rotations. I want you to train hard, your opportunity will come. ” And I’d kill myself to train. I was fine, I thought he’d give me a chance. But when there was room, it was always Calderon’s. In the NBA does not seem, but there is a question of very strong hierarchy. That bothered me a lot. I did not have a chance and I was left out. It bothered me. In February I spoke again, I went to demonstrate what I was thinking, I asked for an explanation and said: “If you do not count on me, before the trade deadline look for a way out for me.” It was not being nice. And then he agreed. He asked what I wanted him to do for me. We were not going to playoff anymore, did not quite understand why the kids had to play 40, 42. It did not make sense. In my head I was completely crazy. I was helping, training a lot, giving advice, but I had no reward. It stung me inside, I was annoyed with the situation, with everything that was happening.
And then in the middle of a trip I was traded. It was five minutes before the trade deadline ended and I went to Houston. By that time Magic Johnson had already taken over the reins of the team. They, Magic and Luke, called me on the bottom of the plane and said of Houston. They said they did not have time to let me know and they had to finish the transaction. Both told me that the Rockets were a playoff team, that D’Antoni was very fond of me and that I could be the PG of the bench. That on the plane. They thanked me, filled me with praise. I talked to my agent, and he told me Rockets would cut me off. Magic said they would stay with me, but Houston changed their mind and wanted a playoff pivot. Then I said, “Is that really serious?” They lied to me again. Again. But inside I thought it was good. I went back to Los Angeles, I kept training there, I did not let myself be shaken, but it was sad in some moments, man.
When asked whether he regretted joining the NBA, though, Huertas said he did not before offering one more example of his struggle in the league.
BNC: Being very sincere: do you regret going to the NBA?
HUERTAS: I do not regret it at all. I believed and saw that there was space, condition. The NBA is a business, it has to be in the right place at the right time. I unfortunately did not fall for the right team for me. That was a very big barrier. I always felt sad and I thought, “It’s not possible that this will continue like this.”
But I tell you: in relation to locker room, in Europe there would never be a few things I saw in the NBA. Never, ever. Regarding commitment, responsibility, even respect. In the NBA players are babies, the owners of the ball. Everyone is afraid to deal with the athlete. In Europe there is no such thing. You step off the line, you are punished sportily, financially, away, suspended, the devil. That does not exist in the NBA. I saw things and said, “That is not possible.” But, perhaps naively, I believed that something would change. I trained a lot. Very very much. I stayed after training, did the specific, I helped the younger ones, everything you could imagine I was doing. If it was in Europe I would play.
As a professional I imagined that at least 10 ‘would play. Except that D’Angelo Russell would suddenly leave, Luke would play for the entire team and I would not go in. I got bitten, upset. In the next game I tried to stay positive but did not roll. I’ve always believed that good things would happen, because from the moment you get depressed or fuck you show that you’re not ready. I was ready to take the chance, but it did not roll. This mental work is complicated, day after day, it is difficult. Had to keep me prepared. Could pass 30 games, if I played 31st, I would have my chance and I would have shown something.
It’s clear that Huertas wasn’t thrilled with how he was handled with the Lakers by Walton and the staff.
It’s understandable that he be upset, but it also seems like Huertas was a victim of circumstances out of his control. The Jose Calderon trade was the Lakers pouncing on a situation they couldn’t plan for while playing Brandon Ingram at point guard was a weird decision, but one made with the focus on developing youngsters.
All of this also comes with the caveat that Huertas himself was nothing more than a role player. His time was limited on the court because his skill set was limited. On type of being a defensive liability, he also couldn’t shoot. While his flashy passing was great, it was the only area he could regularly contribute.
Still, it’s interesting to get a look into how the Lakers’ were run and some inside stories from the locker room.