After All-Star shooting guard tore his ACL in 2013, your Los Angeles Lakers took a nosedive in terms of on-court output. The team entered an epic rebuilding period, and its front office, under GM Mitch Kupchak and team president Jimmy Buss, began looking to the NBA draft to add what it hoped would become the next generation of basketball superstars.
Jordan Clarkson was drafted with the No. 46 pick out of the University of Missouri in 2014 by the Washington Wizards, but the Lakers traded for his draft rights in exchange for cash. He recently reflected on his four-year Lakers run, from 2014-18.
From 2014-2016, Buss and Kupchak made a variety of pretty high-caliber selections in and beyond the draft lottery. In addition to trading for the rights to Clarkson, L.A. also traded for NCAA title-winning Kentucky power forward Julius Randle in 2014. Randle didn't really thrive until he became a monster scoring threat with the New Orleans Pelicans, and eventually blossomed into a one-time All-Star during a charmed 2020-21 season with the New York Knicks.
In 2015, the Lakers drafted guard D'Angelo Russell out of Ohio State with the second pick in the draft. Russell would go on to make his lone All-Star team thus far during a short tenure with the Brooklyn Nets. He is now the starting point guard for what could be a formidable Minnesota Timberwolves club. L.A. also drafted forward Larry Nance Jr., who just signed a lucrative new extension with the Pelicans, with the No. 27 pick out of Wyoming, and Anthony Brown, now out of the league, with the No. 32 pick out of Stanford in the draft's second round.
Versatile forward Brandon Ingram was selected out of Duke with the second pick in 2016. He would be the final lottery pick of the Buss-Kupchak regime. He has emerged as a maximum-salaried All-Star with the New Orleans Pelicans, and has finally blossomed into the Poor Man's Kevin Durant that he looked like in the draft. L.A. then drafted center Ivica Zubac with the 32nd pick that same year. Zubac has emerged as a key rotation piece on the Clippers, and someone the Lakers clearly should not have flipped for cents on the dollar at the 2019 trade deadline.
After the Buss-Kupchak brain trust was axed by Jeanie Buss in 2017, a new front office, led by president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka, added two other key additions for what would be Clarkson's final L.A. season. Clarkson was joined by second overall pick (and Chino Hills native) Lonzo Ball out of UCLA, plus forward Kyle Kuzma out of Utah with the No. 27 selection. Ball, now with the Bulls, has been an excellent 3-and-D role player when healthy, but several lower body injuries have left him with an uncertain future. Johnson and Pelinka traded for Kuzma's draft rights, and North Hollywood native Brook Lopez, as part of a larger deal that sent Timofey Mozgov and Russell to the Brooklyn Nets. In yet another savvy move, L.A. signed undrafted former Texas A&M combo guard Alex Caruso to two successive two-way contracts in 2017 and 2018. Caruso joined the Lakers' standard roster in July 2019, just in time to become a major contributor in L.A.'s championship run. he is now widely regarded as one of the NBA's premiere perimeter defenders.
These are actually some pretty solid draft picks, all told. Yes, better lottery studs were sometimes passed over by Lakers management, most notably Devin Booker in the 2015 draft and Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo in the 2017 draft.
While speaking with Complex Sports' Mike DeStefano for a wide-ranging interview, Clarkson reflected on his time with a rebuilding Lakers team. He also talked extensively about his fashion sense, if you're interested in that sort of thing.
"I don’t think it ever was going to work with all of us being there. [Laughs.] I think we all were stars in our own right. Us separating and going into our home lanes was a good change of scenery for everybody. I see the tweets and all that stuff. It’s so funny to look back on it. I think the Lakers did a great job of scouting us, finding the talent, and giving us the opportunity by drafting us. But us all being on the same team, I don’t think it ever would’ve worked out. We probably wouldn’t have brought a championship back to them or none of that, you know what I mean? They got LeBron for us, whatever it is. It’s part of the game. All of us were stars in our own roles. We had to get a change of scenery to let us grow in other ways."
Russell, Randle, and Ingram would all go on to make an All-Star team, while Clarkson became a valuable reserve on several overachieving Utah Jazz teams. He was named Sixth Man of the Year with Utah in 2021. That season, for a top-seeded Utah franchise, Clarkson averaged 18.4 points a game on .425/.347/.896 shooting splits, plus 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 0.9 steals, all in just 26.7 minutes a night.
Among the "Baby Lakers" that overlapped with Clarkson, only Kuzma and Caruso got to stick around on the team long enough to be involved in the team's 2019 NBA Finals success.
As we learned earlier this week, there's a chance Clarkson could return to the team that drafted him pretty soon. A report from The Athletic indicated that the Lakers had interested in acquiring him as one of the key returning pieces of a hypothetical Russell Westbrook trade with Clarkson's current team, the tanking Utah Jazz.