In years past when a young player’s opportunity was reduced, it was all too often with the wrong intentions. Ronnie Price took minutes from Jordan Clarkson. Lou Williams was playing in fourth quarters for D’Angelo Russell. Kobe Bryant flaunted the third highest usage rate in the league during his farewell tour.
So, when Luke Walton announced before the game that Russell would be coming off the bench to start the game, most people freaked out because the intention was easy to ignore given the news.
Thing is: Clarkson (another young-ish player looking to find a role) is not the aforementioned Ronnie Price. The Lakers need to figure out by season’s end what it is Clarkson is best at, beyond individual scoring. If that’s all he can provide, fine. He’ll be a scorer off the bench.
If he can thrive as a creative guard for others, then his value to the team increases. In lineups with Russell, Clarkson’s opportunity to create for others is greatly stymied. So the result last night: Clarkson starts; Russell comes off the bench.
Whether you agree with the move or not, there is logic behind it. Walton spoke about that logic before the game.
Luke Walton made clear the decision the start Jordan Clarkson over D'Angelo Russell is about evaluation heading into the offseason. pic.twitter.com/RlyvfbaqoU— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) March 14, 2017
Then, after the game, he had this to say about the move, via Lakers.com.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to see much what we were trying to look for with (Clarkson) in the starting lineup, because of the lack of competing that happened tonight.”
Then, to Russell’s credit, he took the demotion in stride when asked to compare this to the stuff he went through last year under Byron Scott. (Quote via Mark Medina, OC Register)
“I don’t want to compare it and talk about that,” Russell said. “That’s irrelevant. But it’s a way different feel as far as you know there’s a reason behind it.”
We’ll have to see whether the lack of competition might lead to Walton playing Clarkson with the starters more or if the lack of competition signaled that the move was ill-advised. For now, all we can do is take into account the intentions behind the move.
With wasn’t Byron sending a message. This was Walton trying to see what the Lakers might have moving forward. That context matters greatly, regardless of how you might feel about the move itself.