Not having Jordan Clarkson may not be as bad as we think

Like yours, my heart sank when bad news broke out yesterday — Jordan Clarkson will not be playing for the Philippines in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament here in Manila.

To say it’s a sucky development is a true understatement. Clarkson, after all, was supposed to be the not-so-secret-weapon of Gilas Pilipinas in the Manila OQT. I mean, just look at the kind of bust-it-out sophomore season he has had for the floundering Los Angeles Lakers: 15.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 triples per game while shooting 35% from beyond the arc and 43% from the field overall.

Those numbers belie the kind of talent Clarkson possesses, and that talent could have been the big difference-maker when Gilas goes up against Tony Parker-led France and dangerous New Zealand later this year. Put Clarkson on the same five alongside naturalized player Andray Blatche, reigning PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, two-time FIBA Asia All-Star Five member Jayson Castro, and The Beast, Calvin Abueva, and we’ve got a helluva strong team that can compete with the best the world has to offer.

Unfortunately, that’s not the lineup we will see in the Manila OQT.

No less than Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Manny V. Pangilinan himself shared the unfortunate announcement yesterday at the official presser of the tournament.

“When I was in Geneva (FIBA headquarters) last March, we talked about Jordan Clarkson again, and I was told to choose between him and Andray Blatche,” Pangilinan said.

“The decision is to get Blatche back. We’re only talking about the FIBA OQT. Mas familiar si Andray sa system ni (coach) Tab (Baldwin) and the players so given the short preparation time, I think the safer choice is Blatche,” Boss MVP added.

It’s not a bad choice, given MVP’s reasons and the prevailing conditions. It’s not like he could strong-arm the sport’s world governing body into immediately and unequivocally granting Clarkson clearance to play as a local for the Philippines. MVP can do and has done many amazing things, but even that is a little beyond his reach.

Remember that getting Clarkson means acquiring clearances from several groups and people. There’s the issue of when his Philippine passport was acquired (which still no formal resolution), whether his whole family is on board with his playing for the “motherland,” whether the Lakers are willing to “loan” him to another country’s national team, and his contract negotiations this offseason amongst other things.

He cannot get cleared just because an image of his Philippine passport went viral in 2015, just because he journeyed with Gilas to the Jones Cup, just because he trained a couple of times with Gilas and coach Tab, and just because he wants to.

It’s all part and parcel of a complicated process (admit it, Clarkson’s is a pretty special case) that has still yet to see its resolution. Had MVP forced the issue in Geneva and said that Gilas wanted BOTH Dray and JC, that would’ve put him and the team in a very precarious position opposite a world governing body already embroiled in another major controversy (Eurocup vs Euroleague, anyone?). In the same way, had MVP chosen Clarkson over Blatche, that would have been tantamount to saying beyond doubt that JC was a naturalized player. It would have resolved the process prematurely, and not in our favor, too.

Remember that neither FIBA nor MVP categorically stated that Clarkson’s status was that of a naturalized player. Both FIBA and MVP were (intentionally?) ambiguous in that regard.

At the end of the day, Blatche plays for Gilas, and the process concerning Clarkson’s eligibility remains a topic for debate and discussion. By choosing Blatche, I believe a small but significant window has been left open for Clarkson’s possibly playing for Gilas as a natural-born player at some point in the future.

One step back today, but two steps forward tomorrow.

So chin up, Pinoy hoop nuts. In the short-term, not having Clarkson right now really further emphasizes our status as tournament underdogs, but in the long-run, it may not prove to be as bad as we think. – By Enzo Flojo

Follow this writer on Twitter: @hoopnut