Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking an almost daily look back at players from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we remember Marcelo Huertas.
Marcelo Huertas wasn’t with the Lakers for long, but in just two seasons with the team, he not only got meme’d into oblivion, but also went on as much of a rollercoaster of a journey as just about any player to ever wear the purple and gold.
Huertas joined the Lakers as a 32-year-old rookie following a storied career overseas, becoming the oldest first-year player in the league that season, and let’s just say he did not immediately earn the respect of observers, as this YouTube video from November of that season (edited by someone I can only assume is Laker Film Room’s evil twin) demonstrates:
The ankle-breaking crossover that began that video received a ton of attention online that night, to the point where Huertas felt the need to respond in an almost immediately deleted tweet at one of the sharers of the lowlight, snapping “I don’t give a fuck what you think! I’m not the one sitting frustrated facing a computer 24/7 wishing you had my job.”
But it wasn’t long after that before Huertas’ rookie campaign began to turn around. The Lakers nearly completed a 28-point comeback on Christmas Day against the Clippers, and despite some strong play down the stretch by rookie D’Angelo Russell, it was a different first-year point guard then head coach Byron Scott wanted to credit for the near victory.
Byron argued that Marcelo Huertas was the main catalyst in the 4th Q comeback— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 26, 2015
Just look at the replies to that tweet if you want to see how most Lakers fans felt about Scott’s assessment, but nevertheless, the moment ended up giving Huertas what would become his enduring, somehow both mocking and loving nickname: The Catalyst. It may not be listed on his Basketball-Reference page, but real Lakers fans remember.
If Huertas’ season were a Disney movie, that would have been the start of a full turnaround for him. He would have helped his young teammates learn the ropes while learning a little about life, and the team would have made the playoffs, or made a title run, or some other improbable feat.
That’s not how things worked out, but amidst the losingest season in Lakers history, Huertas did have some special moments in March. First, his 10 points and 9 assists off the bench helped the Lakers hand the 73-win Warriors one of just nine regular season losses that year. Don’t let them later blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals distract you from the fact that The Catalyst put the clamps on unanimous MVP Steph Curry:
Somehow that wasn’t Huertas’ most legendary moment of the month, though. He would continue to stunt on the rest of the league with what I don’t think is a stretch to call one of the most veteran-savvy and inventive plays in NBA history: Hiding behind Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to sneak in and swipe a steal from Goran Dragic.
This play has to literally be seen to be believed. Just listen to how giddy it made Lakers color commentator Stu Lantz on the replay as Huertas springs out from behind Spoelstra like a flying squirrel to seemingly come out of nowhere and snatch the rock from Sasha Vujacic’s arch nemesis:
Maybe creative little plays like that are part of why, despite the lowlights above — and in a testament to how bad that 17-win Lakers team was defensively — Huertas was (statistically) the Lakers’ most impactful defender that year, as they never saw their defensive rating drop further than when he sat, according to NBA.com.
Unfortunately for connoisseurs of fine memes everywhere, those were about the extent of Huertas’ impacts in the NBA. He finished his rookie season averaging 4.5 points and 3.4 assists, and while the Lakers ultimately re-signed him to a bigger contract that summer, he never really found a role in Luke Walton’s rotation the next year and was dealt to the Houston Rockets (and subsequently waived) at the trade deadline before leaving the NBA for good.
It sounds like Huertas doesn’t remember his two years with the Lakers fondly, as he candidly described them in fairly unflattering terms during a post-exodus interview in which he called NBA players “babies,” among other things. Still, he offered some brief moments of levity and fun during one of the least enjoyable seasons the Lakers have ever had, and for that, The Catalyst will always be worth appreciating. Even if it doesn’t seem like the feeling was ever mutual.