The Los Angeles Lakers will be in an interesting situation with Talen Horton-Tucker this summer.
While they can technically match any offer sheet that Horton-Tucker signs as a restricted free agent and pay him more than any other team in the first two years of his new contract because of the Gilbert Arenas provision, there is a possibility that a team sees him as a future star and offers him the max in the final two years of his contract, in which case the Lakers would have to seriously consider letting him walk.
It’s an unlikely scenario given the fact that Horton-Tucker hasn’t exactly looked like a star on the rise in his first two seasons in the NBA, but one Eastern Conference executive told Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report that they’d sign Horton-Tucker to a max contract if given the opportunity:
At 20, he’s only a year or two older than some of the top prospects—Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and Jalen Suggs—in July’s NBA draft. “I’d max him out,” an Eastern Conference executive said.
The logic behind offering Horton-Tucker the max isn’t totally crazy. With the restrictions another team would have him in signing him to a max contract, his average salary over four years would be about $20.5 million. If he breaks out during that time, that would be a bargain, and the team would have his full bird rights when he hits free agency again at the age of 24.
Unfortunately, that’s not a risk that the Lakers can afford to take, at least not if they want to stay competitive once LeBron James’ contract expires in 2023. Losing Horton-Tucker would definitely hurt because of what an intriguing prospect he is, but not as much as it would hurt to not have the financial flexibility to acquire a star player down the road.
For the Lakers’ sake, let’s hope that they don’t have to make that difficult decision this summer.