Lakers rookie Jordan Clarkson looks like a keeper, but at what cost?

Lakers rookie Jordan Clarkson looks like a keeper, but at what cost?
Jordan Clarkson drives to the hoop against Portland guard Damian Lillard during the first half of a game in February at Moda Center. (Greg Wahl-Stephens / Associated Press)

Byron Scott stopped short of saying the Lakers needed to rebuild around Jordan Clarkson. It would have been a little extreme to say such a thing despite the season the rookie is having.

But the Lakers coach offered the second-round draft pick quite the compliment Friday, saying the Lakers needed to "add some pieces around him and let's see what happens."


Pretty heady stuff for a player who's started only 32 NBA games, and whose contract expires after next season.

Clarkson was the 46th overall draft pick last June, putting him in a different salary structure than a first-round pick. He has a non-guaranteed contract for next season at the league minimum for a second-year player ($845,059).

Then the Lakers will hold Clarkson's "early Bird" rights, creating a complicated set of scenarios, four in all.

1) The first is simple, and unlikely. Clarkson could accept the team's qualifying offer of up to $2.7 million for 2016-17 but would be a restricted free agent once again after that season.

2) The Lakers can re-sign Clarkson via his early Bird rights for up to four years and roughly $25 million. This option could help the Lakers preserve spending power for other free agents, but wouldn't be as lucrative a choice for the player.

3) Clarkson can be brought back using the Lakers' valuable cap space. A maximum contract for four years could amount to more than $95 million. In this scenario, Clarkson eats up roughly $22 million of the team's spending power in 2016 — instead of the $2.7-million qualifying offer. This path greatly limits the Lakers' flexibility in shopping for other players.

4) Because of a quirk in the rules, often referred to as the "Gilbert Arenas provision," other franchises are limited to signing Clarkson as a restricted free agent to a four-year offer sheet as high as $57 million. The limitation on what other teams can offer Clarkson decidedly puts the Lakers in the driver's seat, should re-signing him at a high dollar amount become the priority.

Whatever the decision with Clarkson, the timing is crucial as the franchise looks to re-establish itself as a power in the Western Conference.

Beat the Clippers?

The Lakers appear to be settling in as the NBA's fourth-worst team, too far ahead of third-worst Philadelphia but comfortably behind fifth-worst Orlando.

It's meaningful because they lose their first-round pick if they fall below No. 5 at the May 19 lottery.

There's another race, though, and it involves a second-round pick. And the Clippers.

The L.A. teams play each other Sunday and Tuesday, setting up a bizarre tug-of-war among Lakers fans who want to see the Lakers keep losing to improve draft position.

The Lakers, via the Jeremy Lin trade with the Houston Rockets, will receive the Clippers' second-round pick, but only if it falls exactly in the 51-to-55 range.

The Clippers have been on a recent winning streak and currently own the 56th pick. In other words, a few more Clippers losses could benefit the Lakers.

Lakers' lottery balls

Forget playoff pushes. No Lakers title parades this June. The real race is for a bottom-five draft pick that the Lakers don't have to give to the Philadelphia 76ers. The regular season ends April 15, the draft lottery is May 19 and the NBA draft is June 25. Below are standings of the five worst teams after Saturday's games and odds to land the No. 1 overall pick, which will be Duke center Jahlil Okafor until further notice:

1. New York (14-62, 25%)

2. Minnesota (16-60, 15.6%)

3. Philadelphia (18-58, 19.9%)

4. Lakers (20-55, 10.4%)

5. Orlando (23-53, 10.3%)


When: 6:30 p.m PDT Sunday.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, Prime Ticket, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 980, 1330.

Records: Lakers 20-55; Clippers 50-26.

Season series: Clippers, 2-0.

Update: The Lakers trail the Clippers by a staggering 30 games in the Western Conference standings. The Clippers have won nine of the last 10 between the teams and have never won six in a row against the Lakers, though it might happen Sunday. Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford, sidelined since March 2 because of a bruised right calf, is not expected to play against the Lakers but could make his return Tuesday when the teams play again in a designated Clippers home game.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Twitter: @EricPincus

Bresnahan is a Times staff writer. Pincus is a Times correspondent.