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JaVale McGee picks up player option to remain with Lakers

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JaVale McGee is now under contract with the Lakers for another season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll finish the year in purple and gold.

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2020 NBA Finals - Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

After some deliberation, JaVale McGee has opted in to the second year of the two-year contract he signed with the Lakers last summer. Rather than test free agency, McGee decided to take the $4.2 million he’s owed and hit the market in 2021.

Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the story:

This does set up an interesting dilemma for the Lakers. With how valuable Dwight Howard was for the team in both the regular season and playoffs, retaining him in free agency is likely a priority — even if they’ll have competition and need to pay up — which would put the team at two centers. That wouldn’t be an issue, but it seems to be a near certainty that they will also bring back DeMarcus Cousins, the man Howard was originally brought in to replace.

Now, maybe Cousins’ lengthy and worrying health situation convinces the Lakers to either pass on him or keep three full-time centers on the roster — they did so for most of the last regular season, after all — but remember, they were only able to create a spot for Markieff Morris by cutting Cousins. At some point, three roster spots is a lot for three guys who may all be out of the rotation when games really matter, and Anthony Davis gets more time at center. There is a balance to strike in not overtaxing him at that position to be sure, but it may be a more perilous tightrope to walk this season.

The Lakers could just not sign Cousins or Howard, but if they choose to bring both back, expect them to test the market for McGee plus some kind of asset, and see if they can unload him for a token future asset or player who fits a bit better, or even use him as salary ballast in a larger trade. McGee’s contract is fully guaranteed, so it’s unlikely L.A. just cuts him, but even he may be sensing the writing on the wall, given his recent real estate decisions.

McGee deserves credit and thanks for his role in keeping Davis healthy and fresh last season, but he just now set up an offseason where we get to see how much the Lakers truly value his contributions specifically, or just his contract to use in a bigger deal. We’ll learn a bit more as free agency plays out across the rest of the roster.

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