When an NBA player plays at a high level in the final year of their current deal, their production is often derided as “contract year numbers.” It’s not always wrong, but the unseemly implication is that those players are trying harder to get paid, that they’ll go back to bad habits with guaranteed money in their bank account.
Jordan Clarkson defies such lazy stereotypes. New contract in hand, the former 46th overall pick just wants to get back on the floor with his Lakers teammates. Unfortunately, it seems even a new $50 million deal can’t buy him everything he wants.
In this case, it was actually preventing him from getting it.
“It kinda sucks,” Clarkson laughed when talking to Time Warner Cable Sportsnet host Chris McGee about having to watch the Los Angeles Lakers Summer League team practice. “I wanted to sign this [contract] early in the morning so I could practice today with them, but it's kind of one of those things, I had to sit and wait. If I could compete, I would've. “
Compete is something Clarkson has done since his first day with the Lakers, his soft-spoken demeanor a stark contrast to the fiery competitiveness that simmers beneath. While he acknowledges he’s happy about his big pay day, just like it can’t get him on the floor, he knows money can’t buy him happiness, either.
“I've been thinking about it a lot,” Clarkson admitted about his contract. “But at the end of the day, it's about winning games and the other stuff kind of doesn't matter to me.
“Winning games makes me happy, not the money or anything. “
Clarkson hasn’t gotten much happiness over the last couple of seasons. While his individual game has grown, the Lakers have sputtered. As Clarkson improved his averages in points, rebounds, steals, and crucially, three-point percentage, from his rookie to his sophomore seasons, the team saw their win total drop from 21 to 17, both franchise lows.
Those difficulties forced changes, both on the roster and on the coaching staff, and Clarkson says he likes what he’s seen from this new group.
“The guys are competing,” Clarkson told McGee after watching the team practice. “It's a different energy in here, everybody's really happy and upbeat so it's going to be an exciting time, just to see these guys play in [Las Vegas] Summer League, I'll be there tomorrow and Saturday to watch the first games, and I'm excited.”
Clarkson also noted he plans to share his newfound wealth and take the team out for dinner after their first summer league game on Friday night. That sounds exactly the type of team building and enthusiasm indicative of the joyful culture head coach Luke Walton said he’s trying to create with the franchise he spent the better part of nine years playing for.
However, it’s not just the new atmosphere that has Clarkson chomping at the bit to get back on the floor. He also thinks second overall pick Brandon Ingram is going to be a big addition for the team.
“I talked a little bit to Jabari [Brown, Clarkson’s former college teammate playing for the Lakers’ summer league team] yesterday, and he told me that kid can score the ball,” said Clarkson. “He just has those instincts that he can really score. It was nice to kind of watch a little bit today, he's still trying to feel things out, but I think he's going to be a really good player.”
Ingram looks set for a bright future, but Clarkson qualifying his praise by saying “going to be” likely wasn’t an accident. It’s hard to expect a rookie to come in and make a big difference right away, but Clarkson thinks the rest of the Lakers’ young core is ready to take a step forward next year as well.
“Those guys are seasoned vets now,” Clarkson laughed when asked to evaluate the progress of D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., and Anthony Brown. “Second-year guys out doing what they do, still progressing. They've been working hard since the early summer getting ready for this.”
What “this” will be is likely not a dramatic step forward in the Lakers’ win total in a competitive Western conference, surely leading to more unhappiness for Clarkson. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he sounds determined to make sure his “contract year” isn’t his best year. The 24-year old with plenty of room to grow sounds determined to do just that.
“The best thing [about the new contract] is I'm back here in the city ready to work with everybody,” said Clarkson.
“New coaching staff, we got the young guys coming in from the draft. It's an exciting time and I'm ready to work.”
All quotes transcribed via TWC Sportsnet. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.