The question whether to resign Earl Clark or not would have been considered rhetorical had you asked it on February 20th; the Los Angeles Lakers had just beaten the Boston Celtics behind a 14 points and 16 rebounds performance by Clark. At that time, Clark had just completed a 21 game stretch where he averaged 12 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 48 percent from the field.
Beyond the offensive statistics, Earl Clark was an active defender, using his incredible length and seemingly contesting every shot in the perimeter. Then, as fast as it appeared, the activity and production of Clark were gone; he hit the proverbial wall, and we never saw the same player again all season.
Coming out of Louisville, the scouting report on Earl Clark was that he settled too much for outside shots, an area of his game that wasn’t his strength. During his great run this past season, that wasn’t the case, Clark scored by driving the lanes, getting put backs by hitting the offensive glass and was consistently knocking down his outside shot. Clark even showed he had developed range by hitting his 3s at a high rate, as his 37.7 percentage from behind the 3 point line during that the aforementioned 21 game stretch. However, later on in the year when he begun his slide, the scouting reports were dead on, Clark was no longer active on either end of the floor, and was settling too much for outside shots that were no longer going down with great consistency.
Come July 1st,Clark will be an unrestricted free agent, up for grabs for any NBA team to sign. Clark will be an attractive free agent due to his young age and potential, but his late season slide will definitely hurt him financially with his new contract. While the late season drop in production will make Clark more affordable to the Lakers, it is also a reason why they must question if he is worth bringing back for another season.
It was reported that Clark would be interested in resigning with the Lakers, even at a discounted price. I am certain his agent didn’t approve of that message, but it shows that Clark genuinely wants to be Laker, and that is always an attractive trait.
The Lakers will certainly make a run at Clark, but the question is how much would they be willing to pay and for how long. The Lakers are trying to keep their flexibility for the 2014 free agent season where they currently only have Steve Nash’s 9.7 million under contract. They hope to have Dwight Howard tied down long term, which would leave potentially around 30 million in available cap space, providing enough to offer a max contract to a star player that they can pair with Howard. Clark’s contract would have to be reasonable in order for the Lakers to keep that flexibility.
I would predict that the Lakers would be willing to pay Clark a slight raise, in the neighborhood of 2 to 3 million per year, for a maximum of 2 years, with the 2nd year being a team option. The Lakers own his bird rights so they are able to pay him up to the maximum to resign him without the restrictions of the salary cap. It is something that they will not have the luxury to do in free agency. If they allow Clark to walk, they’ll have to replace him with someone in free agency where the Lakers will be limited to offering exceptions such as the 3 million dollar “mini” mid level or minimum contracts which will not attract good young talent similar to that of Clark.
Simply, Earl Clark gives the Lakers the best bang for their buck. The question is how important is that flexibility in 2014 for the Lakers? If they think that they have a realistic shot at getting one of the big name free agents in 2014, such as Lebron James, they might balk at any player asking for more than 1 year, which Clark and his agent will most certainly do.
It will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond to the Clark situation and overall approach to free agency come July 1st. We’ll start getting answers in 22 days from now. Until then, we’ll keep asking questions.
You can reach me at the my Twitter handle, @fullcourtfern, to discuss this article, anything Lakers or NBA related, or if you want to invite me to go grab a beer somewhere in L.A. You’re paying of course.
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