Just one month into the season for the Lakers, there was already buzz about sophomore guard Talen Horton-Tucker getting a big offer in restricted free agency this summer after a breakout preseason and showing signs that he deserved a spot in the rotation for the defending champs. But at the time, his teammate Montrezl Harrell — who, like Horton-Tucker, is also repped by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports — said that the offseason was the furthest thing from the young guard’s mind.
“This is a young kid who I don’t think is worrying too much about (free agency) right now. He’s just looking to get better and go out and play the game the right way,” Harrell said then. “We’ve got a great agency with Klutch and we leave those things to them. We can’t worry about what’s not in our control, and everything you just mentioned right there is not in Talen’s control.”
Now that the season is over, we know that Harrell was right, because at Horton-Tucker’s exit interview, the 20-year-old claimed he still hasn’t given any consideration to where he’ll be playing next season, or what type of contract he’ll be playing on.
“I haven’t really thought about it as much, because we were during the season,” Horton-Tucker said. “But I appreciate the opportunity that I’ve had here. I’m just going to let my representation handle all that. I feel like they’ll steer me in the right direction.”
If that’s the case, then it’s pretty hard to imagine that Horton-Tucker won’t be headed back to the Lakers. For one thing, the Lakers will have the opportunity to match any offer for him in restricted free agency as long as they extend Horton-Tucker a relatively paltry $1.9 million qualifying offer. And given Klutch Sports’ close ties with the Lakers — in addition to Harrell and Horton-Tucker, they also repped LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Ben McLemore and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope among this year’s Lakers — it’s not too much of a stretch to picture that they may view Los Angeles as the best place for Horton-Tucker to grow.
The Lakers have also shown commitment to developing Horton-Tucker since he was drafted, and made a potentially franchise-altering decision in passing on a potential Kyle Lowry trade at the deadline because they refused to including Horton-Tucker. They clearly believe in him, and he’s grateful about how much time and effort they’ve invested in him.
“I appreciate them a lot for it. The whole time I’ve been here, it’s been nothing but gems getting dropped on me,” Horton-Tucker said on Friday. “I feel like I wouldn’t get that anywhere else, so I’m really appreciative of L.A. for it.”
What did he learn? He says that he learned how defenses were playing him for the drive, and that he needs to develop his shot as a result, and that he needs to get better on defense. But above all else, watching the professionals with the Lakers every day, and how their veterans approached the game taught him more than anything.
“I’ll always say that it was just learning how to be a professional from every guy that we had this year and every guy that we had last year. Just seeing them and the class that they carried themselves with is a great visual for me to see this early on in my career,” Horton-Tucker said. “I’m appreciative of it.”
Appreciative enough to stay longer? We won’t know until free agency takes place in August. But if the Lakers valued Horton-Tucker’s unique upside and on-ball skillset to make him untouchable at the deadline, it would appear they’re in the driver’s seat to keep their young guard in restricted free agency.