Laker fans are mad. Mad that their front office found a diamond in the rough last June.
Coming out of Missouri, Jordan Clarkson found himself falling down the draft board as NBA teams selected other point guards ahead of him.
Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton, Tyler Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Spencer Dinwiddie and Nick Johnson were all taken ahead of Clarkson before the Lakers sent $1.8 million to the Washington Wizards for the 46th pick and the Missouri product’s draft rights.
The move wasn’t just a shot in the dark for the Lakers, though.
Mitch Kupchak, Ryan West and Jesse Buss had been scouting Clarkson “for a long time,” according to Lakers sideline reporter Mike Trudell, and their admiration for the explosive guard earned him a “really high” rating on their draft board.
So, when he started to fall on draft night, the Lakers just knew they had to grab him.
However, while the Lakers knew Clarkson had the potential to be a good player in the NBA, they likely didn’t know he’d be this good, this soon.
On Monday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, Clarkson scored 26 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He also added 11 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in 44 minutes of play.
Although, instead of being excited about Clarkson’s surprising development, some Laker fans were outraged by the rookie’s strong performance.
Especially when he hit the game-winner.
CHANGES ARE NEEDED
If this isn’t proof that the NBA needs to bring in major changes when it comes to the draft lottery then I don’t know what is.
I mean, cheering against your team can’t be good for business, but that’s the sad position we find ourselves in right now.
With 9 games to go this season, the Lakers are clinging onto the fourth-worst record in the league with dear life.
And yes, that is good thing, sadly.
The Lakers’ first-round draft pick this year will be conveyed to the Sixers if it falls outside the top-five of the lottery. The pick was sent to the Phoenix Suns as a part of the Steve Nash sign-and-trade, and then forwarded onto Philly at this year’s trade deadline in a three-way deal with the Milwaukee Bucks for Brandon Knight.
Now, the Lakers currently find themselves with an 82.8 percent chance of holding onto their first-round pick after the lottery in May.
Quite frankly, though, the Lakers had no business being this bad this year.
After ending with the sixth-worst record in the 2013-14 season, it seemed almost certain that the purple and gold would improve upon last year’s win total with the return of a healthy Kobe Bryant, and the addition of lottery pick Julius Randle, among others.
Making the playoffs was still going to be a push, but notching more than 27 wins seemed more than likely.
That was until the Lakers became the most injured team in the league for the second year in a row.
The Lakers have missed 273 games due to injury/illness this season, the most in the NBA, but this is the first game Jeremy Lin is out.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 29, 2015
The fact that the Lakers are even in with a shot of keeping their first-round pick this year is surprising. Yet some fans still want more. They want the Lakers to “tank” – and we’re talking real tanking here, not the kind that Twitter jokes about these days. The kind of tanking that involves instructing your head coach to lose games on purpose.
The Lakers have always said they don’t want any part of that, and I believe them.
They should be applauded for their stance on tanking. I mean, who really wants coaches – and even players – on their team who are trying to lose? That’s not how you build a winning culture.
“I don’t care about all that stuff,” Byron Scott recently said in regards to the t-word, according to the L.A. Times. “It’s all about us trying to get better as a basketball team and trying to win games. Whatever happens after that happens. We can’t control that.”
Yet here you have a bunch of fans who are mad at a rookie like Clarkson for developing as a player and earning wins for the team.
Look, I want the Lakers to land a top-five pick in June as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to lose my mind over it. Especially when it’s young, developing players who are earning the majority of these wins.
In Monday night’s victory over Philadelphia, 76 of the team’s 113 points came from players aged 25 or under, 3 of which were rookies.
Shouldn’t we be excited that these young guys are developing? I mean, what’s to say that the player the Lakers (or Sixers) end up taking with their first-round pick this year will wind up being anywhere near as good as a guy like Clarkson?
Sure, you’d rather have that pick than not have it, but the draft is a crapshoot. It’s almost impossible to predict who’s going to grow into an All-Star caliber player when you’re looking at a bunch of 19-year-old college kids.
Now, if the Lakers were getting a bunch of wins by playing a host of veteran players who will be out of the door next year, then I’d get the outrage. But, for the most part, they’re not.
Fans pleaded for the team to “take flyers” on young guys during this lost season, and they did. Now, those young guys are starting to come into their own and have shown that they’re probably going to be good players in this league.
Is that really such a bad thing?
The bottom line is that the NBA needs to make big changes to the draft lottery. It’s not good for fans who want to see their team succeed, and it’s not good for the players who have to spend nearly a decade of their life with a tanking team thanks to the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Now, who knows whether the Sixers are really, truly tanking – I mean, the kind of tanking where coaches are involved – but one thing I do know is that young players hate growing up in that kind of losing environment.
Just look at Michael Carter-Williams, the reigning the Rookie of the Year. There were rumors about his growing frustrations in Philly this season, and in the end he was traded for yet another draft pick.
You see, that’s what I don’t get about the Sixers and the Laker fans who seem to praise their tanking methods: At some point, they’re actually going to need to hang onto talent instead of constantly dealing it for draft picks.
When will this cycle end? And who really wants to play for a team that constantly encourages losing?
Sure, this method could work out for them in the end, but how far along are we talking here? 5 years? 10? For a team that hasn’t done anything significant in over a decade, the Sixers sure do get a lot of praise from certain opposing fans and members of the media.
WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
So, what’s the answer? How do we fix the lottery?
That’s a question for someone smarter (and more well paid) than me, but one solution that’s already out there is “the Wheel,” a suggestion that would guarantee every team “one top-six pick every five seasons, and at least one top-12 pick in every four-year span,” according to Zach Lowe from Grantland.
Of course, there are downsides to this suggestion, but it would certainly eradicate tanking, and that should be the main goal here.
Things aren’t going to be changing anytime soon, though. Even if a new system was brought in tomorrow, it would take nearly a decade for the changes to come into effect due to all the picks that are currently owed to teams in trades that have previously been completed.
Still, something needs to be done sooner rather than later.
So, for now, yes, it would probably be beneficial to the future of the Lakers if they lose all of their remaining 9 games this season. But if they don’t, just step back for a moment and look at the bright side.
CLARKSON IS A STEAL
Jordan Clarkson has spent an invaluable amount of time as the team’s starting point guard this season, something that likely wouldn’t have happened had the Lakers been competing for a playoff spot right now.
Simply put, Clarkson’s growth as an NBA player has been expedited thanks to his major role on the team this year.
He’s already doing things as a rookie that haven’t been seen since Stephen Curry and Chris Paul were youngsters, and he might’ve even just made the Lakers think twice about giving a guy like Rajon Rondo a maximum salary deal this summer (and at this point in time, that’s probably a good thing).
And as for the pick? There’s nearly an 83 percent chance that they’ll keep it if they end the season with the fourth-worst record in the league. If they fall to fifth, their chances drop to 55.3 percent.
But that’s something to worry about when the draft lottery gets here in May. And even then it’ll still likely be 3-5 years before we really know whether the player taken with the pick is good enough to help this team compete for championships down the road.
However, what we do know right know is that the Lakers landed a real steal in Jordan Clarkson, who looks set to make the NBA’s All-Rookie first team at the end of the season.
So, over these last 9 games, watch for Clarkson’s continued development – the kind that he certainly wouldn’t be getting if he was just sat on the pine all season long – because you might just be looking at the Lakers’ point guard of the future.