In the NBA, more than any other sport, it is the land of haves and have-nots. Forget the 24-hour news cycle on the 35 win teams, please. But the elite squads, the contenders, you can go ahead and beam the injury update into my skull. More info please. Glory to the victors. And for better or worse, that glory creates a foundation that allows the strong to stay strong, for decades at a time.
But what if you suck?
This is, Laker-ly speaking, a pretty new question. Crossing over into greatness isn’t easy under the best of circumstances, let alone while supporting the most rabid, demanding fan base in the NBA. Not in the shadow of Kobe Bryant, of Showtime, of the Logo itself. The answer from the peanut gallery seems to be draft well, and hit on some free agents. But aren’t there 29 other teams out there trying to do that very same thing? How do you escape the treadmill that is the NBA draft system?
You pick up a guy like Jordan Clarkson, and smash that treadmill into tiny little bits.
Were you expecting maybe Brandon Ingram here? D’Angelo Russell, or Randle? That’s the common wisdom, after all – your high lottery picks turn into basketball gods, put the team on their back and win win win. This is the theory every losing team prescribes to. But take a look at the great teams, the memorable teams, and you’re going to find a series of ‘lucky coincidences’ that actually are a lot closer to shrewd management and superior drafting ability – the real differentiators in the chase for championships.
- Rasheed Wallace – sorry for the cold chill in your heart, but the missing piece for the Pistons was a mid-season addition that nobody expected to stick a fork in the Laker dream team. Historically speaking, they got him for nothing.
- Draymond Green – a second round pick for a host of obvious reasons that punched every expectation in the balls and keyed a championship run that might be just getting started
- Every Spurs player of all time except Duncan – whether it’s Parker, Ginobli, Leonard, Green, no franchise in recent history has made a habit of turning player value upside-down like the Spurs.
What I’m getting at is: acquiring equal value from your existing assets, like tradeable players or draft picks, is not the way to build a championship. Teams must exceed the value of their assets, to a mind-bending degree, and that takes them into the greatness conversation. If Russell, Randle, and Ingram were top notch NBA players the rest of their career, and nobody else on the team defies expectations, they will retire ring-less.
So, this could be a serious issue for a lot of teams. But not the Lakers. My man Jordan Clarkson is here to stay.
It’s criminal that Jordan is not getting the media respect or even recognition within Lakerland that he deserves: he has quietly been the best player on the team 2 years in a row – sorry Kobe. He brings ideal size and athleticism to the guard lineup. He’s multi-positional. Give him a guy like Tarik Black and he makes music off the screen. Drive, pass, dunk – on your mama, these dunks are nasty – and his hunger to learn and be great is palpable. In a league that’s tilting further and further towards excellent guard play, he has range, aggressiveness, and the demeanor to make it big.
Every team is a collection of skills – get enough shooting on the floor and you can create mismatches in space, or blast open a lane to the paint. The elite teams put a lot of these skills on the floor at once – that’s the easy part. The hard part is collecting up players who bring these skills to bear. Most of the time the guys who can tip the scales cost you a great draft pick or a huge chunk of the cap. Again, this is why Clarkson is such a franchise-changing unicorn: even on his current contract, he has outperformed expectations by so much that we can allocate resources elsewhere. On a young team, he’s created versatility, not just on the court, but as a franchise. Developing a player like this is all the indication you need that we’re headed in the right direction.
Right now he’s been in the background to the rookies and sophomores a little bit. They deserve their time in the sun. But don’t confuse enthusiasm for the blue chippers with the production that Jordan Clarkson is raining down. And don’t underestimate the value of plucking a scorer like this out of nowhere. Landing on Free Parking in Monopoly is a game breaker. Picking up a player like Clarkson for nothing – that’s the start of something special. And on the Lakers, “something special” makes you a part of NBA history.