SIXTY FLOORS ABOVE Philadelphia's Center City, sitting at a side table by the window-walled lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel, Malik Monk peeks through the glass toward the hustle and bustle below.
It's a Wednesday afternoon in late January and the Lakers are set to face Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers the next night, in the fourth game of a six-game East Coast swing.
They're 2-1 so far -- a rare reprieve in a season rife with turmoil. Russell Westbrook's play has improved since he was benched a week earlier. Coach Frank Vogel is still on the sidelines after the front office had considered firing him earlier in the month.
"Right now, looking over this pretty-ass city, I'll take that in, soak that in," says Monk, who is in his first season with the Lakers. "Anything can happen, man. So I try to take in every little thing."
The night before, in Brooklyn, Anthony Davis had returned from a six-week absence due to a knee injury, leading the Lakers to a victory and back to .500. While Davis had led the defense and LeBron James led the offense, Monk, a 6-foot-3 lightning bolt, led the bench with 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting from 3.
His rise in Los Angeles has been anything but expected -- and he knows it. Having come into the league as a lottery selection in the 2017 draft, Monk is well aware that not long ago, after four uninspiring years in Charlotte, his NBA career was teetering.
After tearing down their roster to trade for Westbrook last summer, the Lakers signed 12 players to veteran minimum contracts in an attempt to find the right mix of role players after shelling out more than $120 million combined this season to Westbrook, James and Davis.
Six of those players -- Rajon Rondo, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington and Avery Bradley -- were former Lakers. Nine of those players -- the aforementioned Lakers returnees plus DeAndre Jordan, Carmelo Anthony and the recently acquired D.J. Augustin -- were in their 30s.
Monk fit in neither category. He was a flier, a theoretical gem, a low-risk free-agency gamble. For an old team lacking athleticism and shooting, he was attractive. For a young player lacking career security, the Lakers provided a much-needed change of scenery.
"They put a lot of trust in me," Monk says. "And I just feel comfortable, man, to go out and perform for them."
And during a Lakers season known for what's gone wrong, Monk represents something that's gone right. Amid mounting losses, organizational dysfunction and awkward roster construction, Monk has brought with him consistency and, at 24, an upside for a franchise looking to maximize what's left of James' final years.
That is, if the Lakers can keep him.