EL SEGUNDO — Like most of the young Lakers, Jordan Clarkson spent his summer at the team’s practice facility, packing muscle onto his frame, working on ball-handling and balance and becoming a better shooter.
All along, Magic Johnson was in his ear, telling Clarkson that he believed he was capable of earning some significant recognition.
“I told him that he should be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate,” Johnson said earlier this week, adding that Clarkson coming off the bench is “the key for us.”
Over the summer, the Lakers experienced an influx of talent at the guard spots, drafting Lonzo Ball to direct the offense and spending $18 million on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. That pair will replace D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young as the starting backcourt, leaving Clarkson, 25, as the third guard.
Clarkson has appeared in 220 games with the Lakers, more than any other player on the roster. Although he and Julius Randle were both drafted in 2014, Randle missed virtually all of his rookie season with a broken leg, making Clarkson, in a sense, the team’s senior member.
Clarkson said his job is simply to “just come in and impact the game.” Coming off the bench is not new to Clarkson, who played in all 82 games last season but started only 19.
After hearing Johnson’s vision for him was as a super-sub, Clarkson said, “It really wasn’t nothing new for me.”
Last season, Clarkson averaged 14.7 points per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the field, teaming with former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to lead the league’s highest-scoring bench. There should be even more room for Clarkson to operate, with Williams now playing for the Clippers after being traded from the Lakers to Houston in February. The deal was Johnson’s first act as president of basketball operations.
Clarkson said Wednesday he appreciates Johnson pushing him toward the award, but the team’s success will determine any personal accolades.
“The big thing about that is if we ain’t winning, I ain’t gonna be no Sixth Man of the Year,” Clarkson said. “All that kind of comes to fruition. If I’m playing good off the bench, it’s going to help us win games. That’s the big thing.”
The last Laker to win Sixth Man of the Year was Lamar Odom in 2011.
The Lakers finished 26-56 in Coach Luke Walton’s first season at the helm. It was their highest win total in three years. Williams was considered a frontrunner for the league’s top reserve award but…