The transition Talen Horton-Tucker made last summer from rookie on his first contract to a player on his first real NBA deal is one that comes with many changes, most notably in expectations. A player on a rookie deal like Horton-Tucker has until this season comes with a baseline of expectations that aren’t particularly high. But a deal like the one Horton-Tucker signed last offseason — a contract worth $32 million over three years and that made him the fourth-highest paid Laker — comes with significantly more pressure.
So the benchmarks rose for Horton-Tucker. No longer was he a youngster outperforming his rookie deal. Instead, he was a player that had to live up to expectations of being the fourth-highest paid Laker.
But while Horton-Tucker’s play did take a very, very noticeable dip this year, he doesn’t attribute any of that to the added external pressure that came with his contract.
“No. That don’t put no pressure on me,” Horton-Tucker said during his exit interview. “I feel like I put more pressure on myself for other reasons, not because of that... Just coming into the year I had to prepare myself to be in a role that I wasn’t going to be used to. So just being able to lock into that was the most important thing.”
Across the board, Horton-Tucker took steps back this year, and any number of things could be the cause of that. An injury delayed his regular-season debut, and when he returned, it was to a Lakers lineup that was constantly shifting with star players moving in and out.
His role, as a result, was constantly adjusting too, but rarely was it ever in an on-ball role that he thrived in for the 2020-21 Lakers. The result was inconsistent play throughout the campaign, something THT has spoken about the need to improve upon. And no matter the struggles, he was still able to keep perspective about the season.
“I feel like it was everything that I wanted,” Horton-Tucker said. “I feel like this year was pretty much everything I wanted except we didn’t win the championship, or even get to the playoffs. So just being able to be in the position I am now, I’m thankful for, but I really didn’t put pressure on myself.
“You’re asking about pressure, but it was everything that I wanted, so I’ll live with the results.”
Horton-Tucker’s future may or may not be with the Lakers, but no matter what jersey he’s wearing on opening night in 2022, the expectations will still be there. In a more properly-suited role, perhaps he’ll have more positive results, but Horton-Tucker will face pressure next season in what could be a pivotal year for his career.
But it’s all pressure THT is ready to face.