The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away, and while no one knows exactly what the Los Angeles Lakers are going to do, there’s a growing belief that Jordan Clarkson’s days in Los Angeles are numbered.
At the beginning of the season, reports leaked that the Lakers were “confident” they could move Clarkson, but preferred not to do it before the trade deadline going with the assumption that they would still be competing for a playoff spot come February.
Now 12 games below .500, the Lakers have shifted their tone toward Clarkson and have “made it clear” that he, along with Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., has been made available in trade talks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
While the news that Clarkson is on the block might not be surprising, Wojnarowski also mentions there’s “mutual interest” between the two sides to get a deal done before the trade deadline, something that hadn’t been reported before. If both parties really are pushing for a move, it would be shocking to see Clarkson on the team after the All-Star break.
It always hurts to see a player go, especially someone as popular as Clarkson was his first few years with the team. But with the Lakers angling for two max players next summer and Clarkson probably wanting to spend the prime years of his career with a contender, it’s the right move for both parties.
Luckily, Clarkson’s trade value may be at an all-time high. With the exception of a string of bad games in December, Clarkson has played like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate for a good chunk of this season.
His per 36 minutes averages of 21.8 points and 4.8 assists are both career-highs, and he’s on pace to finish with the highest box plus/minus (-1.3) of his career.
The only small hurdle with Clarkson is his contract. Clarkson is due $37.5 million over the next three seasons, and while that might not be a lot compared to some of the other contracts signed last summer, it’s still a good chunk of change. However, for fringe contenders looking to bolster their bench, it might not be such a tough pill to swallow.
Here are a few potential destinations and trade packages the Lakers should pursue for Clarkson leading up to the trade deadline.
The Detroit Pistons started off the season red hot, winning 14 of their first 20 games and beating the Golden State Warriors, at Oracle Arena, 115-107.
However, after dropping seven consecutive games at the start of December, the Pistons (22-18) are fighting to stay in the playoff picture and they’re doing it without their starting point guard, Reggie Jackson, who is expected to be out until at least the end of February with a right ankle sprain.
While Jackson hasn’t shown he’s worth the five-year, $80 million contract he signed in 2015, he’s still the Pistons’ best option at either guard position. Frankly, the Pistons can’t afford another month without a better option than Ish Smith and Langston Galloway.
If only they still had Spencer Dinwiddie.
Fortunately Clarkson is available for the right price. Jordan would be an immediate upgrade over Smith and Galloway, whose combined per game averages would only be slightly superior to Clarkson’s. Clarkson would also be able to start alongside Jackson at shooting guard once he returned.
The Pistons likely wouldn’t give up a pick for Clarkson, but they could be willing part ways with one of their young prospects like Stanley Johnson. According to ESPN’s Ian Begley, the belief among executives is that Johnson “is available for the right return.”
A native of Southern California, Johnson hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that got him selected eighth overall in 2015, but at just 21 years old it’s worth seeing if he would benefit from a change of scenery.
Clarkson makes roughly $9 million more than Johnson does, so a straight swap wouldn’t work. Throw in the expiring contract of defensive specialist Avery Bradley, who hits unrestricted free agency next summer, and you might have a deal.
Potential trade: Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. for Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson
The Minnesota Timberwolves are good. Like, really good.
Led by (probably) All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota has finally built a team worth showing up to to the postseason, where they haven’t made an appearance since 2005. But in order to make a deep playoff run, the Wolves are going to have to do something about their bench.
Head coach Tom Thibadeau is known for running his starters to the ground (all five of his regular starters average more than 33 minutes per game) and to his credit, it’s worked for him this season. But the postseason is a different animal. No one knows this more than Thibs, whose lone championship as a coach came against the Lakers in 2008.
His faithful five might be enough to get him past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they’d face in the first round if the season ended today, but it won’t be enough in a seven-game series against deeper teams like the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs.
Clarkson would give the Timberwolves the go-to bench scorer they thought they were getting in Jamal Crawford. Clarkson would also be able to play stretches at point guard when Teague is inactive. Teague has missed 11 of the 44 games Minnesota has played this season.
The tricky part is putting together a package worthwhile for the Lakers. The whole point of moving Clarkson is to clear cap space and the closest thing the Wolves have to an expiring contract is Cole Aldrich’s two-year, $14.9 million contract, which is only partially guaranteed for roughly $2 million next season.
But the Lakers would likely scoff at a straight Aldrich-for-Clarkson swap, especially because the Lakers already have a surplus of big men.
The Wolves would have to throw in a sweetener like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick, which is projected to land in the high-teens/low-20s, or a young player on a cheap contract like Tyus Jones.
Potential trade: Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac for Tyus Jones, Cole Aldrich and a 2018 first-round pick (via OKC)
Unlike the other teams previously listed, the Philadelphia 76ers wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended today. Like any young team, the Sixers are still figuring things out, but they have a pair of young studs in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as well as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Markelle Fultz, to help ease the growing pains that come with “the process.” The only problem is they can’t seem to stay healthy.
After missing his first two seasons in the NBA, and a majority of his third season, Embiid is still struggling to stay on the floor. Whether it’s been the team taking precautionary measures with him or nagging injuries keeping him sidelined, Embiid has already missed nine games this season.
That’s not to mention Fultz, who hasn’t played since October because ... uh ... well, no one really knows. While he’s expected to make his highly anticipated comeback later this month, recent videos of him shooting the ball has fans wondering if he’d be better off on the sidelines.
Definitely un-edited film of Markelle Fultz’s jumper. pic.twitter.com/A6NYqVpRts— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) January 11, 2018
Fultz likely won’t be ready to contribute at a high level upon his return and the Sixers can’t always rely on J.J. Redick to make up for the shortcomings of the other guards on the roster. Clarkson could be the player the Sixers need to transform themselves from pretenders to contenders.
His primary, secondary and tertiary objective when he’s on the floor is to put the ball and the basket. The Sixers have an abundance of talented playmakers, but not a lot of pure scorers, particularly at the guard position.
Philadelphia has a handful of expiring contracts they can use to acquire Clarkson, most notably Amir Johnson’s $11 million contract, but the Lakers don’t need more big men. The same could be said of Trevor Booker, who the Sixers acquired in the Jahlil Okafor trade.
If the Sixers really valued Clarkson, they could be willing to give up a first-round pick for him. Philadelphia is projected to have two first-round picks in next year’s draft, including the Lakers’ first-rounder. For a team looking to win now, adding another two rookies might not be something the Sixers are interested in.
If they’re going to flip the lowest of their two picks, it might as well be for a player of Clarkson’s caliber.
Potential trade: Jordan Clarkson and Corey Brewer for Jerryd Bayless, Amir Johnson and a lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick.
All stats are courtesy of stats.nba.com unless otherwise noted.