Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson days are numbered

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) - Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) - Los Angeles Lakers /

Could Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson’s time with the Los Angeles Lakers be nearing an end?

After being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014-15 NBA Draft, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson entered the next stage in their professional careers. Selected 7th and 46th overall, respectively, both Randle and Clarkson had much to prove.

The Lakers will always have multiple storylines. Whether it’s the shooting struggles for 1st-year guard Lonzo Ball or overcoming slow starts, the uncertain future for Lakers players will somehow emerge from the background and sit front and center.

19 games into the season, the Lakers are in 11th place amongst the Western Conference. With better cohesiveness and a more exciting brand of basketball to watch, the pieces put together the prior four years makes the overall experience of “trusting the process” more worth it.

For Randle, that process included him coming off the bench this season after starting the previous two. This year in a backup center role, Randle initially seemed bothered, yet embraced being a jolt off the bench.

Julius, who turns 23 at the end of November, becomes a restricted free agent this offseason. The Lakers have saved enough cap space to offer max-contracts to premier free agents this upcoming summer, making it a possibility that Randle tests the market.

It’s a different story for Jordan Clarkson. He is already earning a good chunk of change, locked in his first post-rookie contract. Clarkson is earning $17 million this season — his second year of a 4-year $50-million deal signed in 2016. Etched as the 6th/7th man off the bench, Jordan has toyed with being mentioned amongst analysts as a potential Sixth Man of the Year winner.

Although Julius and Jordan have shown decent progression since being drafted, its unlikely the Lakers spend their cap space they’ve accumulated selling lemonade over the summer on spark-plugs off the bench.

The process making the most headlines in Laker land (no, not Lonzo’s change of hairstyle) is the focus on defense. The Lakers rank amongst the top-10 in defensive rating with Luke Walton incorporating ideals obtained from his coaching days in Golden State.

In an article from 2016, Digital Reporter Joey Ramirez recounts Walton discussing what he’ll bring to the table as Head Coach of the Lakers. Ramirez says:

"“he’ll use tape from that game to help teach his Warriors-influenced, pace-pushing offensive system — in particular how Golden State’s players cut, quickly moved the ball around and competed on defense.”"

The Lakers’ starting five has no trouble maintaining consistent attention on their defensive assignments, due in part by their backcourt of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and, yes, Lonzo Ball’s team defense. Add a decent defensive anchor in Brook Lopez, and one of the better two-way playing rookies in Kyle Kuzma, you have a team that allows just 99.7 points per 100 possessions.

Randle, seemingly embracing his role off the bench, will constantly remind the Lakers that he is making the most of his limited playing time with his above and beyond effort on defense.

Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers /

Los Angeles Lakers

Randle has an ability to switch off on positions 1-through-5 and wreak havoc on the opposition with his pace, quickness, and aggressiveness.

As for Clarkson, he averages 15.1 points per game in just 21.8 minutes of playing time. The production of a sixth-man is important for any team, but with the Lakers’ need for a faster pace in a “move-the-ball” offense, Clarkson’s growing individual offensive talent may also be his downfall.

Jordan’s individual game has gotten better each year, but his ability to create for himself tends to slow down the offense, much to the chagrin of Walton and his coaching staff.

Becoming a ball stopper on offense, Clarkson has on many occasions lost possessions with an offensive foul or forced turnover due to poor decision making. While his ability to create is a commodity to have, the Lakers need to continue their focus on moving the ball and making the right basketball play.

Clarkson’s and Randle’s stats are enough to solidify their spots on the Lakers roster, but who’s to say either will continue to embrace their roles off the bench?

Randle is still blossoming before his prime. While Luke Walton is adamant Julius is more effective off the bench, Randle is too good to be playing limited minutes. Brian Kamenetzky, writer and radio host on ESPNLA 710, tweets that:

"I understand that it’s a legitimately crowded frontcourt situation for the Lakers, but Luke needs to find more minutes for Randle. He’s simply outplaying his playing time."

Clarkson, while earning his reputation as an adept guard off the bench, fits the bill of a player that is considered “just-a-guy.” While working extremely hard during the offseason, Clarkson may have reached his ceiling at age 25, halfway through a $50-million-dollar contract.

The potential of trading Clarkson along with Luol Deng’s massive contract will create more cap room for this upcoming summer. Its also quite possible both Clarkson and Randle could be shipped off before the trade deadline in February.

It’s clear the Lakers have been saving their pennies for ‘summer eighteen’. However, for Lakers fans becoming attached to players who have been groomed here in LA since being drafted, it makes it difficult to see a homegrown player depart via trade or free agency.

In the past, there have been many Lakers players cherished by fans, who have seen come and go.

One can’t forget players who have made special places in fan’s hearts — the Eddie Jones’ and Nick Van Exel’s of the ’90s —  who were revered by fans who grew up rooting for their success, witnessing their struggles, and inevitably watching them see their careers go elsewhere.

To leave, and make room for other players.

Hall-of-Fame type players.

One can even go back to the late ‘60s when the Lakers acquired Wilt Chamberlain, coming off of an MVP season with the Philadelphia 76ers, or the acquisition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in ’75.

It’s no secret — the Lakers have their sights set on acquiring Lebron James and/or Paul George, amongst a handful of other free agents that will be available once the 2017-18 season ends.

Acquiring a superstar like Lebron James and placing him on the Lakers will bring him constant competition in a tougher conference, and having to face the Golden State Warriors more frequently in the regular season and much earlier in the playoffs.

Or rather, the potential addition of James and Paul George to go along with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram may be enough to flirt with the idea of the Lakers being able to immediately compete amongst the best teams in the West.

More from Lakers News

Lebron moving out west creates an instant shift, leaving the east even more up for grabs. Boston, currently riding a 15-game win streak, is making an early case for the east crown, led by Kyrie Irving — the former 1B to Lebron’s 1A.

Once a dynamic duo, Kyrie and Lebron are in the beginning stages of a possible personal rivalry that have spawned moments like this. And this. Perhaps a potential collision course between the Lakers and Celtics in the NBA Finals will become more imminent.

Picture this — Lebron donning the purple and gold, and Kyrie decked out in Celtic green, previous running mates turned adversaries, in an epic renewal of the Association’s most storied rivalry. Let me not get ahead of myself.

It’s still the Cavaliers who rule of the Eastern Conference, and although achieving a very impressive win streak, the Celtics still need to play out 60 more games, not to mention playoffs. And you know. The Warriors.

It is possible the Lakers whiff this summer and not get any free agents, which in turn, may force them to spend money on Randle if he isn’t traded by February. With the Lakers having a reputation for acquiring big talent in the past, the opposite can be said in recent years.

Whether or not you buy into the rumblings that support the idea of Lebron coming to LA, or the chatter that surrounded the possibility of Paul George becoming a Laker before being traded to Oklahoma City, rest assured the noise of potential free agent signings may exacerbate a potential discontent amongst Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, seemingly on the hot seat.

Clarkson and Randle both entered the NBA together as rookies, but Randle missed his entire first year, breaking his right leg in the opening game of the 2014 season. During his exit interview of that season, Clarkson had much praise for Randle, despite not finishing a single game (NBA.com):

"“I think he’s a beast. I haven’t seen anybody that size that can handle the ball like he can handle it. He’s fast, and he can take it off the rim and make plays for himself. … I feel like he’s gonna be great.”"

Next: 10 Greatest Free Agent Signings In Lakers History

Clarkson is probably right about Randle, but both of their full potential and greatness might be untapped on another team.

*All satistics used are from before Sunday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets*