EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- When the Lakers signed swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts on media day, I noted his somewhat unusual position. Too good to be a camp body, but still someone fighting serious odds to make the team.
The 40th pick of the 2008 draft by the then-New Jersey Nets, he's a guy who in his three seasons has shown the ability to score at the NBA level, and at one point was seen as a sleeper-type up-and-comer. But when the lockout came last year, Douglas-Roberts was among those players who took the bird in the hand, signing overseas with Virtus Bologna and staying in Italy after it ended.
The NBA is a tough place, where being out of sight can put a guy out of mind, too. Getting back in the league is no sure thing, even for a young player with a decent track record, making Douglas-Roberts one of the more interesting stories of Lakers camp.
I spoke with Douglas-Roberts on Thursday afternoon after practice.
Q: You were overseas the entire year. What was the calculation behind that decision, considering the labor situation the NBA faced at the time?
Chris Douglas-Roberts: It was actually great for me, because during the lockout -- I'm was a fairly young player, I (had just finished) my third year -- so it was about basketball for me. It wasn't about money, I just wanted to play basketball. But I went over there, and made that commitment to stay. It definitely made me a better basketball player, and it made me a better person.
It made me more appreciative, because some days I didn't have heat. The living conditions were terrible. I had to heat up water to give my daughter a bath, some days. If you had the microwave on and the washer on, the electricity may go out in the whole house. It was very small. The shower at the gym that we practiced at, it was filthy. There was mold everywhere. You couldn't put your feet on the ground, barefoot. Guys were getting staph infections. It was basically back to when I was growing up in Detroit. But when I look at it, it just made me a better person and a player.
Q: Did you know what you were getting into?
CDR: Not at all. I had no clue. When you think of Italy, you think of beauty. You think of good food, great people. Which was the case, but it's a different game over there. They look at basketball different, they look at the athlete different. You're practicing two times a day, regardless. Very hard practices, two hours both sessions, and there aren't any days off, really. It's more about the organization, really. It's not about the athlete, really.
Q: How concerned were you about taking yourself out of the NBA game? Out of sight, out of mind so to speak, for an entire year. Obviously you didn't know at the time if there would even be a season, here.
CDR: Right. You know, I kind of made the decision to go there blindly. I've always been confident in myself, I always knew that I was an NBA player. I've performed in this league before. When I come in here, these guys know me. They don't treat me like (a guy in) the situation I'm in now. I've always been confident in myself. I felt like I could go over there and come back. I still feel that way now.
Q: You signed here late. What was the summer like for you, in terms of trying to get back on the radar of NBA teams?
CDR: It was a lot of things going on. We were talking with a lot of teams, and actually thought we were going to go to a certain team that I'm not going to name. But things kind of fell through. And because I didn't go there, I passed up on other offers where I could have just signed right away and wouldn't have been in this position.
Q: Where you're pretty sure you'd have made the team?
CDR: Yeah. The situations -- there were two situations I passed up -- I could have walked into a deal. It wasn't a situation like this, but we were kind of waiting for the other thing to unfold, and it kind of fell through. And it put me in this position I'm in now. But I'm definitely a firm believer that things happen for a reason.
Q: What's this experience been like for you? In the media, we'll look at training camp rosters and say, "Oh, that guy is just a camp body, this guy has a guaranteed deal." Well, you're not a camp body. You have a legitimate NBA resume. Still, there's not a clear path to a roster spot in L.A. What's it like for you to be in this sort of limbo?
CDR: I'm totally selfless right now. That's something I learned from being overseas. Sometimes I feel like this game will humble you. You have a lot of obstacles you have to overcome, and you just can't quit. And I really enjoy that part of the grind. Right now, I'm at that stage in my career. I've seen guys at this stage. (In New Jersey), I've seen guys at this stage in Milwaukee, and I always appreciated the way they came in and were professional every day, and came to play hard. When I'm in this gym, I'm competing at a very high level. Like I said, these guys know me, these guys respect me.
I'm going up against Kobe every day, and I'm confident. And Kobe is confident in me. He's kind of taken me under his wing, and I've heard stories about Kobe, that he doesn't really like people like that. That's just honest. So for him to actually do that, for him to actually care about my development, man, it means everything.
Q: Given the roster math, how does him being here impact things? Knowing the 2-guard is totally set, that there are other guys under contract who can play the 2 or at small forward, too?
CDR: I really don't look at that at all. I look at my chances of making the team based on what I do every day in here, and what I do in these (preseason) games and how I treat my teammates. We have an incredible starting lineup. An incredible starting lineup. But I know all championship teams need help off the bench. I know that, and that's why I'm in here. Regardless of what happens, these guys, they're going to need some help off the bench and I feel like I can provide that.
Q: The knock on you in terms of the scouting reports isn't about scoring or creating shots, but the other stuff. Not as good a passer, not as good a rebounder as you could be. When you talked earlier about improving your game in Italy, is that some of the stuff you're referencing?
CDR: Yeah. Because over in Italy, I was constantly being double teamed, and I was forced to see these passes I haven't seen before. And they were emphasizing rebounding, they were emphasizing being an all-around great player. I had great coaches over there. I can't ever take that away from my experience. My coaches were incredible. They stuck with me, and really emphasized those other things. There are a lot of guys who just come off the bench and score. I don't want to be one of those guys. The guys in here are calling me a really good defender. I know I can do that. I plan on coming here and defending.
But I'm not going to take away from my strengths. I'm a scorer, so I score the ball. That's what I'm going to do- I can't take away from that.