The Los Angeles Lakers look like a roster divided, split by young players out to prove they belong in the NBA and veterans who've already created their own sticking point in the league. It's a better mix of talent than they've had over the previous two season, no doubt, which should make for a better product on the court. Who is the likeliest player to have a "breakout" season, though? SB Nation NBA's team blogs have all been asked this question, and here at Silver Screen and Roll there's one clear answer: Jordan Clarkson.
Sure, the most important facet of this Lakers team is how D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle -- the team's blue-chip prospects -- perform. Should either, or both, of the Lakers' lottery selections wow through their first season (we'll pretend Julius didn't play a handful of minutes last year), it'd be the best development possible for Los Angeles, but it wouldn't be considered a "breakout" effort. They're still in the infancy of their careers, barely poking their wings out of the shell as they hatch like little birdies. Let them leave the nest, first.
Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass can all have career seasons, but that wouldn't be considered a "breakout" situaton, either. One could argue that any of the other rookies and floating players the Lakers scooped up after their initial free ageny drive -- Anthony Brown, Larry Nance, Jr., Michael Frazier, Jonathan Holmes, Marcelo Huertas -- becoming consistent rotation players could be worth a "breakout" nod, but Clarkson is definitely more poised to take a big step in his career.
Jordan often looked a step above the competition during his Summer League play in Las Vegas, averaging 16.8 points per game in a Lakers offense that struggled to create easy scoring opportunities. He hasn't taken time off in the summer, sharing clips of his offseason training every now and then, and even vying to play internationally for the Philippines. One of the few true standout rookies of the season is only building up momentum heading into a fresh slate.
More on Clarkson
More on Clarkson
Clarkson having a big follow-up season to his All-Rookie campaign doesn't come without some complexities, of course. His contract becomes a question -- albeit one the Lakers will have full control of -- since he's a second-round draft pick. The Lakers will have to tender a $1.18 million qualifying offer to Clarkson heading into free agency to make him a restricted free agent. This situation will likely fall into the Gilbert Arenas Provision section of the collective bargaining agreement, which is explained here in great detail by salary cap expert Larry Coon.
Here's a handy chart from Larry's CBA FAQ that gives a rough breakdown of what a maximum offer to Clarkson would look like under this provision (with figures from '11-12):
The first two seasons will still be at a bargain since the initial year of the contract can only be up to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. The second year is capped with a 4.5 percent raise, but in the third year a significant raise kicks in, with another raise in the fourth year. If the total contract value spread out over four years fits into the team's salary cap room, it is then averaged out over the length of the contract. It's a complicated set of guidelines, to say the least. But fear not; Clarkson's contract boils down to the fact the Lakers will have control of the situation with him as a restricted free agent, and they'll have the available cap room to work out any kind of offer they want to retain him going forward. With the expected bump in salary cap and the Lakers having considerable space to work with, this should work itself out cleanly.
Ultimately these details will be moot. The Lakers are in dire need of young talent, and Clarkson is the most proven prospect on the roster. If the glimpses and stretches we saw from him were just the start, his progression should make fans giddy with excitement. Coaches and players alike tend to compare him to a young Russell Westbrook, which seems silly until you remember he did things like this out of the box as a rookie:
And if he steamrolls his sophomore season like he does open lanes to the rim, everyone walks away smiling ear-to-ear as winners.