The Lakers have agreed to re-sign restricted free agent guard Jordan Clarkson to a four-year contract worth $50 million, according to Yahoo Sports and USA Today Sports. Clarkson, 24, averaged 15.5 PPG, 4 RPG and 2.4 APG last season. The 2014 second-round pick started 79 games and did his best to contribute offensively during Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour.
While the Lakers’ last three years have been full of misadventures, plucking Clarkson at No. 46 was one of the franchise’s better recent moves. An attack-minded combo guard with good quickness, Clarkson projects long term as a third guard who can be used on or off the ball.
Judging Clarkson’s body of work in the NBA is difficult: He put up big numbers in his rookie year, with Bryant sidelined for much of the season, only to take a step back in year two with Bryant back on center stage. There are plenty of areas for improvement: he needs to finish better, he needs to get to the foul line more, he can develop a more consistent three-point shot and his defense drew public (and justifiable) criticism from former coach Byron Scott.
While L.A.’s decision to sign Timofey Mozgov raised fit and timeline questions, the signing of Clarkson makes more sense on both fronts. There’s little doubt that Clarkson should be able to perform better and more consistently without Bryant constantly commandeering the Lakers’ offense, and his athletic, occasionally explosive game should work well if new coach Luke Walton decides to push the pace and spread things out.
It’s never quite clear whether the Lakers have admitted to themselves that they are rebuilding or simply waiting around for the right quick-fix to come along, but retaining Clarkson strikes the right low risk/high reward balance for a team that’s at the bottom of the standings. If Clarkson blossoms in a larger role under a new coach and makes the necessary strides on defense, his deal could easily look like a steal next season. If he plateaus instead, at least the Lakers have only committed sub-starter dollars to him.
After three dismal losing seasons, the new-look, Kobe-less Lakers want to get better but they need to be more enjoyable to watch. A freed Clarkson, at the very least, should help with the fun factor.