The move that we looked at heading into the weekend became official on Monday when Ryan Kelly re-signed with the Lakers, signing his name to a two-year contract to return to the Lakers. From Eric Pincus of the LA Times:
Kelly will receive $1.65 million for the coming season and $1.72 million for 2015-16. Both years are fully guaranteed for a total of $3.37 million. The Lakers appear to have used part of their $2.7 million room exception on Kelly, leaving $1.08 million to spend on free agency.
The 48th overall pick from last season’s draft returns to a crowded front court where he will compete for minutes at power forward with rookie Julius Randle and amnesty waiver pick-up Carlos Boozer. Kelly may also see some minutes at small forward, though I still believe that his best position is at the big forward spot where his shooting and offensive skill set are better utilized against players who aren’t as used to defending players who play his style of game.
Kelly’s role, however, is a topic for another day. We still don’t even know who will be coaching the team, so exploring how he fits into the offense and how he can be best utilized within the scheme are a ways off. Instead, then, let’s shift our focus to this season’s second round pick, Jordan Clarkson.
Clarkson was selected a year later and two picks earlier than Kelly, going 46th overall. The Lakers spent $1.8 million on that pick, purchasing it from the Wizards for the right to select Clarkson. Coming out of the University of Missouri, Clarkson was viewed as a borderline first round pick so while it was not a surprise that he slid into the 2nd round the Lakers were quite pleased he slipped as far as he did. After the draft Mitch Kupchak said the team had him rated much higher than where he was selected, implying that he had the potential to be a nice player.
In summer league, Clarkson showed that Kupchak may be right. Clarkson averaged 15.8 points and 5.0 rebounds — both team highs — in Las Vegas, flashing excellent quickness and a knack for getting to the rim. Whether in transition or working out of the pick and roll, Clarkson showed a natural burst that allowed him to not only get separation, but to find angles that allowed him to finish around and over defenses. He also showed a smooth and easy release on his jumper, which was a pleasant surprise considering the knock on him in the draft was his inconsistent shot from range and an over reliance on his physical tools to create looks.
Of course there is still more work to do and Clarkson will be the first to say so. When asked about his play during the team’s time in Vegas and what he needed to work on/what was the hardest thing about playing at the NBA level, he mentioned finding the proper pace and adjusting to the speed of the game. This isn’t uncommon, especially for young players. Often times when players first get onto the floor, they find that the game moves very quickly and they often speed up their own game trying to compensate. Clarkson was no different, sometimes rushing to make a play or not showing enough patience to let a sequence unfold before committing to what he wanted to do. As a point guard who will have the ball in his hands a lot, he will need to find a way to channel his aggression and be more calculated in how and when he attacks. This will come with time. At least that is the hope.
The question, now, however, is how much time will the Lakers give him. And I don’t just mean this in the form of playing time. I started this post talking about Ryan Kelly and he provides us with a potential template to follow. With his new contract the Lakers have put a 3 year investment into Kelly. Though it as only been a few summer games, I’d argue that Clarkson might be worth a similar investment in years.
As noted above by Pincus, the Lakers have roughly $1.08 million left of their “room exception” to sign potential free agents. That money, at least some of it, could also be used to sign Clarkson, however. Under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, players who sign for the minimum can only be inked for a maximum of two years. Second round picks often sign minimum level contracts and, thus, typically sign for a year or two, usually becoming restricted free agents when that first contract expires (this is what happened to Kelly after signing his 1-year deal when the Lakers issued him his qualifying offer). Because the Lakers have cap room, they do not need to go this route with Clarkson, though. They can actually offer him a longer deal — up to 4 years — by signing him to a contract using the money they still have left in their room exception. I am not condoning offering him the rest of the $1.08 million they have, but a contract similar to the one that Chandler Parsons originally signed with the Rockets — a 2-year guaranteed contract starting at $850K with the final 2-years non-guaranteed — may be worth exploring for Clarkson. I am not saying Clarkson turns into the type of talent Parsons has — after his 3rd year in the league Parsons entered restricted free agency and to a max contract offer from the Mavs. What I am saying, however, is that Clarkson should be viewed as a cheap option who plays a position of need and, if agreeable to it, could be locked up for well under a million dollars for multiple seasons while developing under the guide of LA’s organization. The Lakers are in a position to make this move and should strongly consider it. When looking at their roster beyond this next season, there are not very many players under contract. Every NBA team needs to fill out their roster with cheap talent and few players come cheaper than 2nd round picks. If he pans out, the team has a potential contributor who, like Kelly, they would want to commit to anyway. If he doesn’t, the team is only out a small amount of money. There is very little risk and the potential for a very good reward. For the Lakers, this is exactly the type of situation they should be looking to exploit.
Forget everything I just typed above. A simple mistake of misreading the CBA had me under the impression that Clarkson could be signed for longer than a two-year deal when that is not the case. Clarkson, whether via a portion of the room exception or via a minimum salary exception can be signed to a maximum of a 2-year contract. I’d still like the Lakers to pursue this route rather than only a one year deal, but the advantages of going this route are much lower than if the team was able to sign him for longer.
All that said, from what I have seen of Clarkson, I firmly believe he has an NBA skill set and that the Lakers should be looking to invest in him. As noted above he has a lot of growing to do, but I’d rather he do that under the guide of the Lakers than not.