Malik Monk stands out in many ways among the crop of free agent role players the Lakers brought in to round out the roster behind LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
Most notable, of course, is his age. The 23-year-old Monk is one of just five Lakers with full-time roster spots who are also under the age of 30, joining Davis, Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker and rookie Austin Reaves on that list. And unlike a lot of his new teammates, Monk has mostly been a disappointment in his young career, considering that the Charlotte Hornets took him with the 11th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and let him go without a fight in free agency. If Monk had performed closer to the level of 13th pick Donovan Mitchell or former Kentucky teammate and 14th pick Bam Adebayo, he would not have been available for the veteran’s minimum coming off his rookie contract.
But Monk has shown flashes of being the dynamic two-guard that he was in college, hitting 40% of his threes in a breakout shooting performance last season. This is a one-year prove-it deal for him to show that his newfound ability to hit from deep is not a mirage. Of course, the Lakers have been burned very recently by a similar guard on a one-year deal coming off a breakout season. Unlike Dennis Schröder, however, Monk is not insisting on a starting role.
“We haven’t talked about that yet,” Monk said at the Lakers’ 2021 media day on Tuesday. “I think we’re all just going to compete, man. I’m here. I don’t care if I start or come off the bench, I’m just here to be the best Malik I can be for the Lakers.”
And here is where Monk fits in much more with his new teammates. The lack of concern over starting jobs or specific roles has been a constant theme among the Lakers’ new free agent additions, marking a drastic shift in tone from the likes of Schröder and Andre Drummond last year.
Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington and Trevor Ariza all made it clear that they don’t care about their roles on the 2021-22 Lakers either, though at least one rumor has named Ariza and Ellington as the frontrunners to start alongside James, Davis and Westbrook. Carmelo Anthony has transformed his game and his priorities to become a scoring threat off the bench instead of the ball-demanding isolation scorer he was in his prime. Rajon Rondo, despite being a key part of the 2020 Lakers championship run just over a year ago, knows he won’t be playing nearly as much on this squad, and says he’s fine with that.
That selflessness resembles the 2019-20 squad that was the best team in basketball before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the NBA down and eventually became champions when play resumed in the Orlando bubble. Many of these Lakers have tasted championship glory before and want another bite. Many others — including Anthony, Westbrook and Monk — have expressed the desire to do whatever it takes to reach that level for the first time. All in all, it should be a better mix for the Lakers this season, and one that might allow them to repeat their past success.