With NBA free agency set to begin on Friday, Nov. 20, most players with player options on their contracts for next season — players like Lakers center JaVale McGee — have until Thursday, Nov. 19 to decide whether or not to opt in to the final year of their current deals or enter free agency.
McGee’s player option for the 2020-21 season is worth $4.2 million, and given the relatively dry free agent market and the way he was mostly played off the floor in the postseason, it seems highly unlikely McGee could get more than that (at least annually) in free agency this season, which would appear to make opting in an easy decision.
However, it seems things aren’t quite that simple for McGee, who is still deliberating with his camp on whether or not to come back to the Lakers for another season, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN (via “Mason and Ireland” on ESPN LA):
“I think he’s still deciding, and that’s an interesting one too because if he opts in, he can stay right where he is, but he also is an attractive player to trade with that salary.”
While the playoffs weren’t a neon sign flashing McGee’s value, he still started all 68 games he appeared in for the Lakers during the 2019-20 regular season, and served as a valuable big body to sop up minutes so Anthony Davis wouldn’t have to play center more than he wanted to. He served a purpose on this title run, even if he wasn’t on the floor for all of it.
Still, in the postseason, McGee was mostly played off the floor in almost every round, before finally not playing a single minute in the NBA Finals. He caught a lot of flak during that playoff run, but McGee was valuable for what the Lakers needed him as during the regular season: A token starter and glorified innings eater. But the postseason was not exactly a showcase of his value for most teams in the modern NBA, so it seems highly unlikely he and his agent think he can get more on a fairly cash-poor free agent market than what the Lakers owe him.
Still, the last part of what Shelburne said — “he also is an attractive player to trade with that salary” — is worth noting, because while McGee’s play didn’t necessarily make him a hot commodity, his salary would make him useful ballast in a trade. It’s a fair bet he — like teammate Avery Bradley — probably doesn’t want to opt in just to get traded to make salaries match in some larger deal. That’s probably why opting in is a tougher decision than it may seem on its face, and McGee may see the writing on the wall indicating that him starting the season with the Lakers is unlikely either way, given that he already sold his house in Los Angeles.
The Lakers’ hunger to make a move on the trade market has been obvious, but with Danny Green’s salary gone and Kyle Kuzma’s cheap contract as one of their few remaining assets, they’d need salary ballast in any big trade for a real contributor. McGee’s hesitance to opt in is likely reflective of a larger idea: No one is desperate to sign back on just to get dealt to a destination they don’t pick. He may value his freedom to choose his next spot over the extra money he could get by picking up his option.
We’ll see whether McGee decides money or choice is more important over the next few days. Until then, keep up with all the latest Lakers free agency rumors in our tracker here, and all of the trade rumors about the team here as what promises to be a wild offseason continues.