Western Notes: Clarkson, Hayward, McCollum

It’s unclear if Jordan Clarkson will be in the starting lineup or coming off the bench for the Lakers this season, but regardless of his role, the guard needs to continue to improve his defense, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report writes. “We watch tape at our coach’s retreat and they gave us the analytics on him defensively, and he was not good last year at defense. He was not good,” coach Luke Walton said. “He’s been maybe our most consistent perimeter defender since the start of camp. A big part of defense. if you’re going to play it on every possession, is enjoying the idea of trying to get stops and trying to make it hard on your guy,” Walton said. “He’s a year older, who knows what it is, but he’s done a great job for us.

Clarkson acknowledges he had some improvements to make over last season’s version of himself, Pincus notes. “All defense is, is taking angles, finding a spot where to cut somebody off, using your chest,” Clarkson said. “Some of that stuff had to come in the weight room. I got stronger this summer. I just put in a lot of work.

Here’s more from out West:

  • Gordon Hayward can opt out of his current deal after the season, but Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey said during an interview on Sirius XM Radio today that he is confident the team will re-sign the forward. “For us I think, as much as anything, we need to be ourselves with Gordon, need to be authentic and real and then he’s going to have a decision to make. But fundamentally, if we do the right things here… Let’s just be honest, we have an advantage by having his Bird rights. There’s a lot of money associated with the fifth year and higher raises,” Lindsey said. Hayward’s player option for 2017/18 is worth $16,736,710, but he’ll almost assuredly command well over that amount on the open market.
  • Blazers point guard Damian Lillard believes that Portland will be a contender for the Western Conference crown this season, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. “It’s a lot of tough teams in the West,” Lillard said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh we can go right up in there and it’s going to be easy.’ But I feel like we’re one of the teams that’s right there in the mix. Obviously, you’ve got teams like Golden State and San Antonio, the teams that everybody talks about. Obviously, they’ll be good, but I feel like we could jump right up there and get in the mix with them.”
  • Lillard’s backcourt partner, C.J. McCollum, who inked a maximum salary extension this summer with the Blazers, has the proper makeup not to let the distractions that accompany such a major financial windfall affect his play, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical writes in his profile of the player.

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