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What does Dennis Schröder’s future with the Lakers look like?

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The Lakers can re-ignite contract extension talks with Dennis Schröder starting this week. Will the two sides get a deal done before free agency?

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Lakers acquired Dennis Schröder during the 2020 offseason, it was the culmination of a lengthy courtship. Rob Pelinka had reportedly been enamored with Schröder’s game for some time, to the point where the Lakers almost dealt for him in 2019, and LeBron James has also wanted to play with the 27-year-old for longer than they’ve been teammates.

So now that Schröder is actually a Laker, it would seem that the team would want to keep him here for the long haul; and as fate would have it, Schröder feels the same way. The Lakers did all they could to extend their starting point guard’s stay in Los Angeles prior to the start of the season, but Schröder turned down the 2-year, $33.4 million offer. That was an understandable choice considering he is set to make $16 million this year and presumably expects a raise as he enters the prime of his career.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers
Dennis Schröder has been a welcome offensive boost for the Lakers.
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

That means a reckoning on Schröder’s future in Los Angeles is yet to come, and a pivotal date in that decision-making process is coming soon: This Tuesday, Feb. 16. That is the first day that the Lakers can officially up their extension offer to a maximum starting salary of $18.6 million; the total value of that new deal would be about $83 million over four additional years. Even if Schröder wanted the flexibility of a shorter contract, the first two seasons of that extension would total $38.7 million, which is a substantial jump from $33.4 million. The two sides have until the start of the 2021 offseason to agree on an extension, otherwise Schröder will hit unrestricted free agency.

The Lakers aren’t really in a position to be free-agent players anymore, not with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on max contracts and several players due to for raises (including Kyle Kuzma’s already agreed-to extension). Therefore, the Lakers either have to lock in their core or seek out trades, and given their limited asset pool, trades are going to be tricky.

Which brings us back to Schröder, and a possible extension for him.

The Lakers don’t have the means to get a player of his caliber in free agency, so it’s fairly certain he’ll be back with the team barring a catastrophic finish to the season. That leaves us with two primary questions:

  1. Should the Lakers extend Schröder now, or wait until free agency in the offseason?
  2. How much is Schröder worth?

It’s probably best to make a deal with Schröder as early as possible. If the Lakers advance as far as they expect to in the postseason, chances are that Schröder will have played an important role. Players who factor heavily in deep postseason runs tend to get paid: Just look at Rajon Rondo or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Even Kuzma got a decent pay bump after his playoff performance.

We also know that Schröder has a track record of playing well during the postseason. If he hit a couple more threes in last year’s first round, he would have had a chance to prove that against the Lakers. The likelihood is that his worth will go up as the season progresses — he’s gotten more comfortable throughout the year — and his recent postseason history suggests that the Lakers wouldn’t be tying their fates to a player who shrinks on the biggest stage. This isn’t an Eric Bledsoe type of situation.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets - Game Seven
Schröder was quite in the 2020 playoffs, which bodes well for the 2021 Lakers postseason run.
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Furthermore, if the Lakers wait to extend Schröder, they run the risk of him simply leaving in free agency. He can be an unrestricted free agent, and there are no guarantees with that, even if the Lakers feel confident in his return. Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard both seemed like guarantees to come back this past offseason, and yet neither of them dons purple and gold anymore.

In the event Schröder becomes an unrestricted free agent, he could also command a lot more money than what is available in an extension. The Lakers have a window to win a title right now, and Schröder fits next to their two superstars. Securing his future in Los Angeles when he still has upside would be the smart play.

Now let’s turn to the value of that next contract. Schröder is probably a league-average starting point guard. He ranks 23rd in the NBA in ESPN’s real plus-minus and is tied for 17th in FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR model. He isn’t a player the Lakers should expect to become an All-Star, but he is someone who can capably run an offense and feast against second units.

And even though his 3-point percentage has regressed this season, Schröder is continuing to shoot well from midrange and on free throws, which means he’s still defended as a shooter. His total assists have gone up since last season, and his assist percentage is right in line with a secondary playmaker.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have loved Dennis Schröder’s defense this season.
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

On the defensive side of the ball, the metrics haven’t been so kind to Schröder, though the team has been complimentary of his energy and effort. He has the length and quickness to keep up with shiftier guards while also switching onto wing-size players, and he competes. Not being as good as Alex Caruso on defense doesn’t mean that Schröder isn’t a good defender. That’s a high bar.

The only starting-caliber point guard who was a free agent last year was Fred VanVleet. At age 26, he signed for 4 years, $85 million, which is a useful comparison point for Schröder. VanVleet and Schröder are a bit different stylistically — the Raptors guard is a long-range bomber while Schröder has more of an in-between game — but they’re both tough guards who can play either the 1 or 2 and provide meaningful value on both ends. VanVleet’s deal really should be the upper limit of what the Lakers give Schröder, especially because his contract came after VanVleet won a title with Toronto.

Incidentally, that number is right in line with what the Lakers can offer Schröder in an extension. The Lakers happen to be boxed in by the fair market value that was set last offseason. The real point of negotiation could be the years, but even committing to an age-32 Schröder shouldn’t be a huge issue.

That leaves us with two final considerations. The first is the team’s luxury tax bill, which could be fairly onerous as new contracts/extensions for Schröder, James, Kuzma and (hopefully) Caruso and Horton-Tucker kick in. That payment could reach potentially $100+ million at a time when the Lakers aren’t making any gate revenue from games. But even if the Lakers get Schröder at a relative discount, say a $15 million starting salary, that tax bill will start to creep up.

The only way to avoid those problems altogether is by letting Schröder go, so the last point of contention is if the Lakers can replace Schröder internally. Could Caruso or Talen Horton-Tucker fill in at starting point guard?

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
Do the Lakers have enough ball handling and shot creation already on their roster to withstand losing Schröder?
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Caruso may not have the ball-handling chops traditionally associated with a lead guard, but he’s gotten better in his handling and playmaking every year of his career, and there’s no denying his impact on the court, especially when he shares the floor with James. Jared Dudley has said that he expects Horton-Tucker to be starting as soon as next year; maybe that’s in place of Schröder. The second-year Laker’s game has also improved by leaps and bounds, and he has to be on the court somehow.

I’m still not sold on either of those players having the ability to be a starter on a championship team in 2021-22, however. Caruso doesn’t have enough offensive punch, and Horton-Tucker is still a bit mistake-prone. If they do evolve into capable replacements, the Lakers can always trade Schröder. His extension shouldn’t be an overpay based on his current level of production, so the Lakers will have some flexibility to move him if other guards supplant him in the rotation.

At this point, it makes the most sense for the Lakers to commit to Schröder going forward. Everyone on the team seems to genuinely enjoy having him around, and his production justifies his presence. Furthermore, the Lakers used an asset to acquire him (the 2020 first-round pick), and they’d probably like to recoup value on that investment.

The Lakers are going to get expensive. There’s no getting around that. With James still on the roster, now is not the time to cheap out. Now is the time to continue putting a championship-worthy roster around him, and the best way to do that right now is to extend Schröder.

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