Despite all the chaos that’s rammed into the Lakers, Jordan Clarkson has remained their steadiest player.
He can score, with accuracy no less, and he’s got a determined, make-it-happen mind-set.
He’s also one of the keys to the Lakers’ off-season, a slightly complicated piece of the gigantic cash pie available to them next July.
Kobe Bryant’s $25 million will be off their books and Roy Hibbert’s $15.6 million too. Add the league-wide salary-cap increase from $70 million to about $90 million and you have a spending party for a team with only seven players under contract for 2016-17 at a combined $26.3 million.
But Clarkson will get a big raise as a restricted free agent after making $845,000 this season. The possibilities are many because he’s a second-round draft pick who received a two-year contract when the Lakers plucked him out of obscurity with the 46th pick in 2014.
The Arenas provision was created because Golden State was unable to match Washington’s offer in 2002 to Arenas, a second-round draft pick whose career was on the rise after only two NBA seasons. Golden State was hamstrung by the salary cap, so Washington was able to pry him away.
Teams with enough salary-cap room can give Clarkson a max of $57.8 million over four years or $34.1 million over three years. Clarkson can sign an offer sheet with only one team, which the Lakers have the option of matching.
Or the Lakers could swoop in before he starts talking to other teams and offer a four-year contract up to $88.9 million. That would obviously get a deal done but would be a lot of money for a promising player whose primary accomplishment so far was making the NBA all-rookie team.
There’s little doubt the Lakers want Clarkson in their future. He’s averaging 15.2 points on commendable 47% shooting. Bryant, in contrast, is averaging 15.9 points on 30.9% shooting.
“I think he’s been remarkably consistent,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said of Clarkson in a recent interview. “He did have to make the adjustment from playing the second half of the year last year with basically a free rein to a team where there’s more ball-handling guards. That takes away a little bit of what he gave us in the second half of last year.
“Having said that, he worked on his game during the summer, he’s a much better shooter, he’s just as competitive.”
More Coach Kobe?
In a surprise move, Bryant yielded playing time to the younger players late in a 123-122 overtime loss Wednesday to Minnesota.
It was the right gesture on his part, considering his erratic play this season.
The key question — will it continue? Bryant seemed to enjoy it.
“I did a lot more teaching, coaching them along from the sidelines,” he said. “I played 20 years. I’m not really tripping about minutes or anything like that.”
Bryant has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to coach when done, entirely sensible given his legendary impatient demeanor.
Just the same, Julius Randle endorsed him.
“If he wanted to, he’d be pretty good at it,” Randle said. “He was patient [Wednesday]. It was good.”