Jordan Clarkson is a good basketball player and in many ways the most reliable member of the Los Angeles Lakers roster. However, he is also a victim of circumstance, and with a new front office that will be hungering to acquire a star-caliber player this summer, there is a reasonable chance that Clarkson will be sacrificed to make it happen.
Should that occur, it would be a sad day for those fans who respect his unflagging effort and his solid accomplishments amidst the rubble and ruins that have become the Lakers franchise over the past three years.
As everyone knows, Clarkson was selected by the Washington Wizards with the 46th pick in the second-round of the 2014 draft, but he was immediately traded to the Lakers for cash. There were whispers at the time that this was an astute move by the Lakers and he quickly made a strong impression in the Summer League with his athleticism, speed, and high energy style of play.
Despite the positive impression, he spent much of the first half of his rookie season playing in the D-League. When Kobe Bryant was lost for the year in January, Clarkson got his chance and took full advantage of it.
He was a one man gang and seemed to get better and stronger with every game. He made the All-Rookie First Team and his play surpassed that of the point guards drafted ahead of him such as Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton, and Tyler Ennis.
The 2014-15 season was the beginning of a steep downward spiral for the Lakers franchise and as a consequence the team has received the second overall pick the past two years. D’Angelo Russell had an average first season that saw him make All-Rookie Second Team and Brandon Ingram seems headed down the same path. One could argue that Clarkson’s rookie season was more successful than the first year play of both Russell and Ingram.
Unfortunately for Clarkson, it is widely perceived that his ceiling is not as high as his lottery-pick teammates Russell, Ingram, and Julius Randle likely due to the fact that he came in the league at the age of 22.
To accommodate Russell during the 2015-16 season, Clarkson moved to shooting guard although he had successfully played the point as a rookie. The year was a disaster on every level as Bryant took a farewell lap around the league and everything else took a back seat.
Clarkson did not complain and played more total minutes than anyone (by far) and was the second leading scorer after Bryant. It was overlooked in the midst of a horrific season for the franchise generally, but Clarkson had a solid sophomore campaign.
The Lakers rewarded Clarkson over the summer by agreeing to a four-year $50 million contract with him in free agency. Clarkson showed his loyalty to the Lakers, too, as he did not meet with anyone else and said he wanted to return and help the team become a winner again. Some have speculated that there were higher money offers out there for Clarkson, but with him being a restricted free agent, the Lakers had all the advantages even if he did want to leave, which wasn’t the case.
Nonetheless, most assumed Clarkson would be the team’s starting shooting guard, but new coach Luke Walton decided he would be best in a reserve role. Of all the people he could have lost his starting role to, it turned out to be Nick Young, who was not even supposed to make the team.
Even more frustrating, he was playing on a second unit with Lou Williams, another ball dominant player. Clarkson needs the ball in his hands to be at his best, and playing alongside Williams was a challenge.
Once Williams was traded at the All-Star break, Clarkson asserted himself as the number one scorer in the league off the bench over the next ten games. Then, he was shuttled around again, this time into a starting role, and as the point guard, when Russell was demoted. Even though the results haven’t always been great Clarkson continued to play hard and give maximum effort at all times.
The Lakers hoped to show enough improvement this year to make the team a more attractive destination for free agents this summer. Free agents are very likely to stay with their current team who, under the rules, can pay them more money than anyone else. If they go elsewhere, it would likely be to a team that is already close to competing for a title.
The Lakers are in last place in the Western Conference, playing as badly as a team can play, and Magic Johnson or no Magic Johnson, it is highly unlikely that a last place team could attract a top free agent this summer to join this franchise.
If Johnson wants a bona fide star, it will have to be achieved through a trade. In particular, there are rumors that Paul George and Jimmy Butler may be available. However, George made $19.5 million this season and Butler $16.4 million. Because of the enormous amount of money committed to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng which no other team would want to inherit, Clarkson would likely have to be included in any trade in order for the numbers to work.
With so much negativity surrounding the Lakers the past few years, the one constant has been the presence, effort and energy of Jordan Clarkson. He is the one player who suits up and plays hard all the
Some argue that Clarkson’s ceiling is not as high as originally believed, which may or may not be true, but the conditions around him have been so debilitating since he joined the team, including the players, the coaching staff, and the front office, that it is very hard to evaluate anyone. Still, Clarkson fans are hoping he survives the offseason and suits up again for the purple and gold next season.