The week leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft was not really centered around the draft at all, at least for the Los Angeles Lakers. The team was involved in trade talks for Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George for most of the week heading into the event, with talks ultimately stalling because the Pacers were unenthused by the Lakers offer and Los Angeles was unwilling to raise it.
According to most reports, the Lakers were offering the Pacers their pick of Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson, and throwing in the No. 27 and No. 28 picks on top of either of those players.
The Pacers obviously balked at that offer, or George would have had his Lakers introductory presser Friday in addition to or instead of Lonzo Ball. Those around the league probably aren’t surprised Indiana passed on that deal, at least based on the perception of Randle and Clarkson shared by the extremely plugged-in Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN shared on Lowe’s podcast Friday:
"Clarkson is not well regarded [around the NBA], and I get that,” Lowe said. “People are pretty divided on Randle, I've joked that I'm going to die on Julius Randle hill, I think Julius Randle is good."
"Well the Lakers aren't going to be extending him,” Windhorst said.
"No, because his cap hold is going to be $12.5 million next year and that's cheaper than what [he’ll make on his next deal],” Lowe said. "I've heard people describe Jullius Randle on an $18 million contract as 'dead money.'"
Lowe, who is also a talented talent evaluator himself, later added that he is “not a fan” of Clarkson’s game.
Randle’s upcoming contract negotiations are going to be difficult, so it’s not surprising the Lakers are kicking that can down the road while they preserve their “sacred” cap space for 2018.
Those negotiations, however, are probably not something another team would look forward to both a) because of the extremely small-sample size of data on Randle and b) how unique of a roster he may need to be on to fully utilize his talent, without yet proving he’s worth the hassle.
Clarkson’s contract probably has as much to do with why league-wide perception of him has changed. When he was the 46th overall pick making an impact it seemed like found money, a nice story. Now that he is slated to make $37-plus million over the next three years, he’s a much less attractive asset.
Lakers fans seemed to sour on Clarkson over the last year, and it would appear the rest of the NBA has caught up with them. Unless he and Randle make significant strides forward this year, the rest of the league may continue to view them pessimistically in any possible transactions, presenting a real hurdle as the Lakers continue to find a way to make a move for George.