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Former Suns first round pick Earl Clark continues to look for footing in NBA

The names of some of Phoenix Suns first round draft picks over the last decade can keep a fan up at night, including Zarko Cabarkapa, Alando Tucker and Kendall Marshall, to name a few.

In fact, the Suns had better luck with seeing a first round pick succeed in the NBA when they immediately traded that player to another team. Rajon Rondo and Luol Deng come to mind. Rudy Fernandez was in this category for a while, but he left the country to play in Spain in 2012.

Looking over the Suns’ last five years of first round picks, power forward Markieff Morris is arguably the only draftee that has panned out for the team.

However, Earl Clark, the team’s first pick in 2009 draft (14th overall), continues to battle against any notion of being a “bust,” but he won’t be doing so while playing for Phoenix.

On Sunday, Clark, in his first year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, faced his former team. The five-year veteran played just 10 minutes against the Suns and hit one of his two shots (a 3-pointer).

Clark, a 6-foot-10 forward, averaged just 2.7 points, 1.2 rebounds and 37.1 percent shooting in 7.5 minutes per game in his first year in the league. He was only nine games into his second season with the Suns when he was dealt to Orlando as part of the trade that brought Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter to Phoenix.

The Louisville product saw slightly more minutes with the Magic over the next year-and-a-half, but didn’t put up much better numbers, and there were several games where he didn’t even get his name called to take the court.

Clark even signed to play in China in August 2011, but he asked to leave the team a month later and never played a game for his Chinese club.

A year later, he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers along with Dwight Howard as part of a four-team deal. He was playing sparingly in L.A. until the calendar turned over to 2013, when injuries to Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill gave Clark the opportunity to step up.

On Jan. 9, 2013, in San Antonio, Clark broke through for 22 points on 9-of-12 shots and grabbed 13 rebounds. Through a span of 30 games from January to March, he put up numbers of 10.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, nearly one block per game while shooting 46.6 percent from the floor.

The Newark, N.J., native saw fewer minutes from mid-March through the end of the 2012-13 season, but he parlayed his pseudo-breakout campaign into a two-year, $9 million contract last July with the Cavaliers.

The biggest knock on the 2009 first rounder is that he’s a “tweener” — not a true wing player, and not quite a power forward. Former Sun Michael Beasley and former Arizona Wildcat Derrick Williams fall in the same category.

The 26-year-old forward began the 2013-14 season seeing significant minutes with Cleveland, but inconsistent play and the team’s early-January acquisition of Deng has lead to irregular playing time for Clark.

In January, Clark has received just 13 minutes of action per game while shooting just 29.7 percent from the field and scoring 3.8 points per contest.

Entering Sunday’s matchup with Phoenix, he has started 17 of the 40 games he’s played with the Cavaliers, with season averages of 5.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 16.2 minutes per game.

Clark has shown some signs of life in the league over the last two seasons to where he may not be considered a bust, but the jury’s still out.

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