Corona- Many of the innumerable benefits of living in Southern California were on full display for anyone on the drive up to the Player's Edge Sports Complex in Corona, California on Tuesday morning. Sunny skies, shorts and t-shirt weather, great restaurants as clear as the eye can see. All that was missing was a beach.
Rather than enjoying any of those things, Jordan Clarkson was hanging out in a gym. It's familiar territory for the workaholic third-year guard, but this time was different than the majority of his trips there.
Clarkson looked out from the carpeted floor at the giggling and screaming groups of children divided up across four basketball courts partaking in various ball-handling, rebounding, shooting, and defensive drills with smiling and patient instructors. Among them was his father, Mike Clarkson, walking around from group to group offering individual instructions to several kids.
The scene was something Clarkson had dreamed about since deciding he wanted to play pro basketball, and the financial security he'll receive in the form of a max or near max contract will make plenty more camps like this possible. But while money, fame, and living in Southern California are all great, none of them are the main reason Clarkson hopes the aforementioned contract he'll sign this summer comes from the Los Angeles Lakers.
The real reason is he has unfinished business.
"Being here, them giving me the opportunity by drafting me at 46[th overall] and us having those two bad seasons, I definitely want to be around when stuff changes and we get to winning again," Clarkson told Silver Screen and Roll during an interview at his JC6 Nike Basketball Camp. "I've just had a good experience here, so I wouldn't want to leave and experience anything else."
Clarkson's wish is likely to be granted, his status as an "Arenas Rule" restricted free agent limits the money other teams can offer him while giving the Lakers the right to match. It's a right they are all but sure to exercise.
That type of guaranteed money would make some players complacent, but Clarkson's summer doesn't sound all that different from two years ago, when he says he worked out for 15 different teams during the pre-draft process. Instead of flying around the country to various practice facilities, Clarkson has spent his summer globetrotting to the Philippines and China for Nike promotional obligations. All the travel hasn't kept him from spending plenty of time working on his game, especially his three-point shooting.
"I spend a lot of time in the gym," said Clarkson. "A lot of shooting, a lot of reps. I did a lot of work last summer on my midrange stuff, but now I just want to be able to stretch my game out a little bit more. Shooting off the dribble and making plays behind the line."
Clarkson will need to improve his three-point stroke after canning a mediocre but improved 34.7 percent of his attempts last season in order to fulfill the Lakers' hopes of a seamless backcourt fit between himself and point guard D'Angelo Russell, but it's far from the only area he's working on. Clarkson says he's also focused on improving his "defense, slowing down on the offensive end, letting plays happen so I can make plays for my teammates, and also just getting stronger and staying in the weight room."
One would be forgiven for assuming those very Golden State Warriors' sounding traits are Clarkson's focus due to an edict from his soon-to-be head coach Luke Walton. One would also be wrong. Clarkson and his personal trainer, Drew Hanlen, came up with those areas of improvement by watching film of Clarkson and other similar players over the summer.
Even with a max contract on the way, Clarkson is still driven to improve. It probably comes due to the almost visible chip on his shoulder. Or more accurately, 45 smaller chips representing the 45 players taken before him in the 2014 NBA Draft. Clarkson couldn't quite name them all off the top of his head ala Draymond Green, but he still thinks he's the best guard in a class that includes Marcus Smart, Zach LaVine, and more.
While the sentiment is up for debate, Clarkson's confidence is not — but it is understated. He answers with a simple "yeah" when asked if he still believes in his post-draft proclamation that he "feels like [he's] one of the best point guards in the draft, maybe the best," and that confidence hasn't turned into an ego. Clarkson wants to be a part of the Lakers revival, no matter what role he plays.
"I would do anything for my team," said Clarkson when asked to clarify the comments about coming off the bench he made to Michael Pina of Bleacher Report. "If coming off the bench was something that was good for the team and we're winning games then I'm always down with that. I'm not worried about who starts or any of that as long as I'm impacting the game. That's what it's about at the end of the day."
Clarkson has already impacted far more games than the average second round pick. If that impact starts contributing to more wins, two things are all but certain: Clarkson will get his wish to remain in beautiful Los Angeles long-term, and his basketball camp will too.
It will just start later in the summer.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise linked. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.