After very publicly considering opting out, Avery Bradley has now gone through with it, and has reportedly declined the $5 million player option that would have seen him return to the Lakers for the 2020-21 season, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Now, the man who was the Lakers’ starting point guard for the majority of the season before the NBA bubble will enter free agency:
Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley is declining his $5 million player option for the 2020-21 season and hitting free agency, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) November 19, 2020
Lakers still have Avery's rights - non-Bird, allowing for a 120% raise or $5.7 mil— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) November 19, 2020
For a while, this seemed like a fairly unlikely outcome. Yes, Bradley made an impact on the Lakers last season, but after he declined to go to the bubble and now hasn’t been seen on a basketball court in months, it seemed highly improbable he would be able to get more than the $5 million the Lakers owed him on an open market featuring so few teams that actually have money to spend. Returning to L.A. and rehabbing his value before going into free agency next year seemed to be the the easy choice, and one that would have given the Lakers back some helpful guard depth and defense on the wing back after they traded Danny Green this week.
Bradley isn’t a traditional lead guard, but with LeBron James running most of the Lakers’ sets, Bradley saved James from having to defend a smaller player, often taking the toughest opposing ball handler and trying to irritate them with full-court pressure that clearly energized the rest of the starters — to the point that the team held “The Avery Challenge” when Bradley was out with an injury earlier in the year, holding themselves accountable for playing as good of defense as they did before Bradley was hurt while he was out.
Over the last few weeks though, Bradley’s return started to seem like less and less of a possibility. Last week, he publicly announced he had changed agents and was considering entering free agency, which was quickly followed by reports that the Lakers expected him to opt out and that the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks would chase Bradley if he hit the market. The reasoning for Bradley’s stance then became clear: He was reportedly seeking a longer-term contract than opting in to the final year of his deal would provide, a deal the Lakers are unlikely to provide.
Can Bradley get more annually than the $5 million the Lakers owed him this season? Maybe, maybe not, but my initial theory when he began signaling that he might opt out was that Bradley wanted assurances he wouldn’t be opting in just to be used as salary ballast in a larger deal, and now that Bradley has decided to join the market, it seems clear that was the case, and that he valued the opportunity to pick his next team over having it chosen for him, even if it means risking some money in the process.
That’s completely Bradley’s decision to make, but it now seems fairly unlikely he’ll be back with the Lakers, which — in conjunction with Green’s exiling — should make retaining Kentavious Caldwell-Pope an even bigger priority in free agency, and also ensures that the Lakers will need to keep chasing names like Wesley Matthews as well.
However, given that the Lakers just literally won a ring without Bradley, this is hardly an insurmountable loss. There is no question they can win without Bradley, because they already have. Now they’ll just have to do it again. At least they have some practice.