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Talen Horton-Tucker returns to the Lakers in free agency

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After a breakout sophomore season, Talen Horton-Tucker will reportedly return to the Lakers in what will almost certainly be an expanded role.

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Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Talen Horton-Tucker’s sophomore year in the NBA began with a breakout preseason that quickly made him a fan favorite, continued with him becoming a piece of the rotation for the defending champions, and is culminating with a payday and a return to the Lakers this summer.

But now, Horton-Tucker and the Lakers have agreed to a deal that will see him avoid restricted free agency and remain in purple and gold for years to come.

For the Lakers, this is a solid deal for a player they have a lot of belief in. At just under $11 million AAV, the Lakers avoided being forced to match a pricey offer sheet and came to an agreement that is both a hefty pay raise for Horton-Tucker as well as a reasonable figure for the Lakers. In fact, his deal comes in at just a shade more annually than Alex Caruso’s contract. He will only be 23 years old by the end of it.

After their trade for Russell Westbrook, retaining Horton-Tucker became a priority for the Lakers given their lack of financial flexibility and a depleted roster heading into free agency. The team extended the qualifying offer to make Horton-Tucker a restricted free agent well before the deadline.

Well before the offseason, the team showed how much it valued Horton-Tucker by drawing the line at his inclusion in a deal for Kyle Lowry prior to the trade deadline. Horton-Tucker also represents the only prospect and talented youngster on the roster as the team moves further into a win-now mode with the Westbrook.

But Horton-Tucker is not remaining with the franchise due solely to his potential. He’s showed he can play already, appearing in 65 games last season while averaging 9 points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds win 20.1 minutes per game. He shot 45.8% from the field but struggled from range, shooting just 28.2% on the season.

As the season progressed, Horton-Tucker’s role grew as his minutes per game average increased each month of the season, culminating in him playing 24.8 minutes per game in seven games in March. His strong play did not go unnoticed outside of the organization, either, as one Eastern Conference executive suggested they would offer a maximum contract to Horton-Tucker this offseason.

The Lakers avoided the tough decision of having to match a deal they didn’t negotiate by working out a contract with Horton-Tucker. It certainly helps that Horton-Tucker is a Klutch client and the Lakers have a strong, positive relationship with Rich Paul and Klutch Sports.

With the departure of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Horton-Tucker will almost certainly have an even bigger role next season, one which he has earned and has now been rewarded for as he bridges the gap from the Lakers’ present to their future.

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