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Former Gonzaga standout faces test

Adam Morrison is back in the summer league, probably the last place he thought he’d be as he prepares for his fourth season in the NBA.

But the former Gonzaga standout finds himself at a career crossroads.

The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title with little contribution from Morrison. He’s scheduled to make $5.2 million for the 2009-10 season and is still trying to fully recover from a torn knee ligament suffered in October 2007.

The time for Morrison to prove he can play — and contribute significantly — is now. After the coming season, nothing is guaranteed.

“I think (about it) a little bit,” Morrison said. “Having not played much last year, I have to see if I can fit in.

“I don’t think I’m starting over necessarily. I still have confidence in myself. My knee feels pretty good right now, and I’m as close to 100 percent as I can get.”

The 6-foot-8-inch Morrison will be the most recognizable player on the Lakers team that faces Toronto at 5 p.m. today in Cox Pavilion as the summer league’s sixth year in Las Vegas gets under way.

“I’m trying to learn the triangle (offense) and go out and play,” Morrison said. “I’m going to use the summer league as a positive.”

A good showing in Las Vegas over the next 10 days would not only boost Morrison’s confidence but would give Lakers management reason to believe the forward can contribute to the team’s title defense.

Morrison appeared in only eight games with Los Angeles after being traded in February from Charlotte, which drafted him No. 3 overall in 2006. With the addition of free-agent forward Ron Artest this week, the Lakers’ lineup has grown even more talented and tougher to crack.

Still, Los Angeles could use more offense from midrange to the perimeter, and that’s supposed to be Morrison’s forte. He was known as a sharpshooter and a dependable scorer in college.

But he hasn’t shown the ability to dominate offensively at the NBA level the way he did at Gonzaga, where he was a first-team All-American.

Morrison averaged 11.8 points as a rookie and was a second-team all-rookie selection. But he missed the entire 2007-08 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a preseason game, coincidentally, against the Lakers. The injury required extensive surgery and rehabilitation.

“People said it would take a year, so I knew that going in,” Morrison said. “But it was still a little frustrating not to get back quicker.”

Charlotte’s Larry Brown, a coach who has little patience with young players, shipped Morrison to L.A., and he found himself a spectator as the Lakers made their run to a 15th NBA title.

“I had an idea when I got traded I wouldn’t play much,” Morrison said. “Their lineup was pretty much in place, so they told me not to rush and to get healthy.”

Lakers coach Phil Jackson was able to be patient with Morrison. He stressed that Morrison, too, needed to be patient, that for some players the adjustment from college to the NBA takes a little longer.

To illustrate his point, Jackson told Morrison about Bill Bradley, Jackson’s teammate with the New York Knicks who averaged 30 points at Princeton but only 12.4 points during his 10 years with the Knicks.

“I understood where he was coming from,” Morrison said. “You want to have success right away, but sometimes things happen and it takes longer. If I hadn’t gotten hurt, I don’t think I’d be in this situation.”

Even though he was on the sidelines, Morrison said he learned a lot.

“It was special to be part of it, to sit back and analyze how guys go through the grind and how they held together,” he said. “You gain a new appreciation for what it takes to win at this level.”

Now, Las Vegas offers Morrison not only a chance to play but something to play for: his NBA future.

“I’m looking at this as an opportunity to move forward,” he said. “For me, the summer league is a starting point in getting back to where I was before I got hurt, so it’s important for me that I play well in Vegas.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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