Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson was rolling against the L.A. Clippers, at one point scoring seven consecutive points in the fourth quarter. He finished the night with 17 points on 12 shots, to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
But instead of riding Clarkson and closing with the hot hand, Lakers head coach Luke Walton elected instead to sub rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who struggled most of the night and finished with three points on 1-of-7 shooting and seven assists, back into the game with 5:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Clarkson didn’t step foot on the floor again after being replaced by Ball, and the Lakers went on to lose 120-115.
After the game, Clarkson told Shahan Ahmed of NBC LA that being benched while he was playing so well was difficult to accept:
“It tough as hell, to be honest with you,” Clarkson said after a long pause and a deep sigh. “Because I’m a competitor like everybody else in this locker room. You want to be on the floor. It is what it is. I can’t control nothing [sic] of what’s going on. [Walton] put the guys, he thought, on the floor that are going to win the game for us.”
Clarkson repeated, “It is what it is.”
However, Clarkson added he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the decision:
“It’s been happening all year, so it ain’t [sic] no surprise to me,” Clarkson continued. “I’m just going out there, competing, trying to help my team win when I’m out there.”
Clarkson has helped the Lakers win while he’s out there, averaging the second-most points per game on the team (15.2) while averaging 22 minutes off the bench. His bucket-getting prowess has helped power a stout Lakers bench unit, but it’s also not a shock to see him getting benched for Ball.
The Lakers have made no secret that they see Ball as the future of the franchise, and getting developmental minutes for him in close games is invaluable, even if he’s taking lumps out there during his rookie season.
Clarkson, on the other hand, perhaps is not in the Lakers’ future plans due to his long-term contract and the team’s well-known desire for cap space to pursue 2018 free agents.
It’s easy to understand why Clarkson is frustrated. If the NBA were a total meritocracy, he likely would’ve closed against the Clippers, and probably a few other games this season.
The reality is that it’s not, though, and well-run teams are going to roll with guys who are in their long-term plans, especially if they’re still young and developing.
It’s not necessarily fair, but as Clarkson said, “it is what it is.”
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