Why Lakers Should Pursue Jazz's Jordan Clarkson Amid NBA Trade Rumors

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured Columnist IOctober 31, 2022

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - OCTOBER 23: Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz shoots against the New Orleans Pelicans during a game at the Smoothie King Center on October 23, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers sit at 1-5 in the NBA's Western Conference for a myriad of reasons: lack of shooting, bad offense and injuries, to name a few.

But the most glaring reason is the diminished play of Russell Westbrook.

The embattled former MVP has played some of the worst basketball of his career while donning the Purple and Gold, so the Lakers have been trying to trade him for a while.

One of the biggest questions the front office has to consider is how it can move Westbrook and what it will have to give up in order to do so.

Lately, the rumors have L.A. shipping Westbrook to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Jordan Clarkson.

Utah is in the throes of a rebuild, so it would make sense to move the 30-year-old guard because of his value on the market as a proven scorer and his expiring contract.

But according to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Jazz are "super reluctant" to deal Clarkson, who has become a fan favorite and is a vital cog for a team with a surprising 5-2 record.

"I've heard the same stuff that other people have reported that they are just super reluctant to move Clarkson," Lowe said on his podcast The Lowe Post. "They're really fond of him for whatever reason, so I would peg him as the least likely of all these Jazz guys to get traded."

Clarkson, the 2020-21 Sixth Man of the Year, is in the starting lineup for the first time in seven years, and it's been a game-changer for the team's chemistry.

He's averaging 17.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game and turning heads for the way his improved all-around play has helped the Jazz stay in the win column.

Utah head coach Will Hardy told reporters after Saturday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies:

"That's all Jordan. I have not begged him to be a playmaker. I think I've tried to explain to him where he fits in with this group and try to empower him in that way. I've told him if the game tells him to shoot 10 times in a row, then he should shoot 10 times in a row, but I just think he has more to offer us on that end, and we saw some big passes from him down the stretch tonight. But in no way have I had to beg Jordan to play this way. He's been amazing all year, throughout training camp, and then this early part of the season. So credit to him."

From the looks of it, Utah wants to keep Clarkson, but that doesn't mean it won't move him for the right deal, which is another problem for the Lakers.

L.A. has little to offer the Jazz or anyone else in a potential Westbrook deal.

The Lakers can only sweeten the Westbrook pot with a 2027 first-round pick, which is not enough for most teams.

But time changes everything, and so does winning or losing.

As teams pile up losses, whether because they're not very good or they want to tank for a chance to draft generational talent Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson, more doors will open for the Lakers and Westbrook.

But to get to that point, Westbrook will have to play well enough to show teams he's still got it.

Based on the last two games, that plan may be headed in the right direction.

Thanks to Westbrook's 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, the Lakers got their first win of the season Sunday against the Denver Nuggets at home.

For the first time in quite a while, Westbrook heard cheers from the home crowd, which was a welcome sound for him, his team and his prospects moving forward.

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said after the game:

"I'm so happy, man. I can't even imagine what that kid has been going through. One of the biggest things about me getting this job was for him to get that respect that he deserved, because a lot of what went on last year was not his fault and all the blame was placed on him.

"I told him, 'Just listen to me, believe in me, bro, I'm going to put you in a position to succeed with the group, but you have to put the group first. It can't be about me, or I or mine. It's got to be us, ours, we,' and he's done that."

Embracing the sixth-man role has been difficult for Westbrook, but in the win over Denver, he was energetic, pressing and making better decisions with the ball. The Lakers desperately need that from the veteran point guard, not only to compete, but also to have better options should they decide to trade him.

"One thing I never will let happen is people outside of my family, [the] people that support me, take my joy," Westbrook told reporters Sunday. "Always have fun and embrace this game, and embrace the gift I've been given to be able to go out and compete.

"And yes, winning makes you feel better about yourself. But when you're losing, it's not as much fun. Tonight was a night where we were able to have a chance."

Westbrook's right. Winning does make everyone feel better. Should the Lakers build on their first victory of the year and keep winning, the noise around the former UCLA standout will quiet down, and maybe they can ride it out.

But if they still want to trade Westbrook, they should definitely try for Clarkson.

Many may point to the fact that they play with the same kind of shoot-first mentality, but the differentiator between them is that Clarkson can shoot.

He can take some pressure off LeBron James and Anthony Davis because there's no way a defender is lagging off him, daring him to pull the trigger.

He's too lethal, especially when he gets it going.

Clarkson won't find his way to the Hall of Fame like Westbrook, but as L.A. works to address its many issues, trading the latter for the former makes all the sense in the world.