LAS VEGAS – Talen Horton-Tucker is in a pretty good mood. Sure, that’s probably the default setting for the Los Angeles Lakers youngster this summer on the heels of his putting pen to paper on a three-year contract extension worth around $32 million, but Horton-Tucker had a smile seemingly glued to his face as he met with basketball fans at the Las Vegas Summer League.
A Summer League alumnus in his own right — Horton-Tucker suited up for the Lakers in Las Vegas in 2019, several weeks after he was taken in the second round of the Draft — the 20-year-old wing calls it “great” to be able to sit down and watch basketball as a fan for the first time in a minute. Of course, his current situation isn’t all that bad, either. Horton-Tucker’s aforementioned big payday came as the Lakers have an eye on reloading ahead of a push for a championship next season, with the team making clear that he is an important part of whatever plans they have over the next three years.
He does exist at an interesting intersection: Teams like the Lakers want to win and win right away. At the same time, Horton-Tucker is so young, so early in his development as a basketball player that, conventional wisdom says, the absolute best thing for him is to play, make mistakes, and use them as learning opportunities.
While these are not always viewed as compatible, the good news for Horton-Tucker is he believes he is given the opportunity to do the latter.
“I feel like I’m given the opportunity to play through my mistakes,” he tells Dime. “And also, they’re also hard on me. I feel like they can see how good I can be, I feel like they want to push me to try and reach that level, so anything that they say, I’m always open to listen to it.”
A young player with a funky game and tools to help him make an impact on either end of the floor, Horton-Tucker says he’s in the midst of a constant conversations with the coaching staff about his role in Los Angeles. His two main focuses this offseason, on-ball defense and shooting, are things that generally lead to minutes aplenty for guys on LeBron James-led teams. But he’s not just boxed into that sort of role.
“Talking to the staff, we always have the conversation, me being able to do a lot of things on the floor,” Horton-Tucker says. “I try to use my tools to my advantage — my length defensively, then my creativity offensively, being able to make plays, not just for myself, but for others. Being able to improve my game the whole year is going to be important for me.”
An important element to making those sorts of improvements on the fly, Horton-Tucker believes, is the ability to keep a positive mind in the face of everything. Namely, he views any growth he experiences as part of these mistakes as a way to lay a foundation that should stick with him over his next decade-plus as a professional basketball player.
“I take it all on,” he says about being a young player in L.A.’s pressure-packed environment. “I feel like I’d rather have that in my career now than have it later, I feel like it prepares me for later on in my career.”
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Los Angeles is a place where he can learn from the best. Despite all the turnover that has happened on the team’s roster during his two years, stalwarts like James and Anthony Davis give him the chance to learn from two of the best players on earth. A laundry list of veterans — Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard, Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, etc. — have been teammates of his at one point or another.
His first practice was as an observer because the start to his rookie year was delayed by a stress reaction in his foot (he does admit that it still “excited like the first day at school”), but he remembers the feeling of belonging out there when he suited up for the team for the first time in a game. From that very first moment to now, one bit of advice he’s received from all of these veterans has resonated.
“Pretty much all the guys tell me to take it all in, and try to have fun with it,” Horton-Tucker says. “Because when you’re not having fun, there’s no reason to do it anymore.”