One of the few, almost undisputed wins for the Lakers this offseason was landing Malik Monk on a veteran’s minimum contract. It’s a move that has been met with such universal approval that Anthony Davis spent the early season wondering aloud about how the team was able to afford his fellow Kentucky product, LeBron James clowned Monk’s former team on Twitter about letting him go after helping lure him away, and the team let it be known they had been trying to trade for Monk for years.
But not long after everyone but Monk himself finishes taking a victory lap over his signing, the Lakers will have to turn around and figure out whether or not they can keep him. Monk’s brother and agent Marcus Monk already told Jovan Buha of The Athletic that they hope his younger sibling can remain “a Laker forever” earlier this season, and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka made it clear recently that the feeling is mutual.
All Lakers fans should read Dave McMenamin of ESPN’s excellent feature on Monk’s career turnaround in full, but particularly of note within were Pelinka’s thoughts on keeping arguably his best offseason signing, and the seemingly reciprocal interest from the Monk brothers:
“The partnership has been a win from both sides,” Pelinka says. “Both for the Lakers, in terms of the productivity he’s had for us and then I think on his side, just showing people what he can do in big moments in big games. ... He’s a guy that we would see as hopefully a part of our future.”
“We’re very loyal people,” Marcus says. “The Lakers were calling him nonstop once free agency opened. So we don’t forget about that. On the other side, it is a business. ... But I would love to see him in a Laker uniform.”
Monk would too. “It’s a beautiful experience, man,” he says. “I love it.”
For now, that’s all Lakers fans looking for any silver linings from this season can hope to hear. Monk isn’t always consistent, but at just 24 years old, he is only one year older than Lakers rookie Austin Reaves. So he’s still very young, and the admirable steps forward he’s taken to limit how much teams can target him defensively in conjunction with his supernova scoring abilities would be even more useful with another year to learn and grow alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, all while theoretically slotted into a more appropriate role for his talents.
But even while everyone is saying the right things, keeping Monk will be easier said than done. As NBA cap expert Eric Pincus broke down for Bleacher Report earlier this season, the Lakers’ ability to do so will come down to a few factors I’ll try to summarize as briefly as possible:
- The team can pay Monk up to approximately $2.15 million using non-Bird rights on his current veteran’s minimum deal, which is obviously unlikely to be enough.
- The Lakers could offer Monk the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of approximately $10.1 million if they were going to be under the hard cap — the NTMLE would lock them into being hard capped — but even just Russell Westbrook opting into his $47 million player option would put them above that. So they’re unlikely to have that option.
- The team’s best option if they want to keep Monk, then, might be to offer him their taxpayer mid-level exception of about $6.2 million (the same exception they used to sign Kendrick Nunn last offseason). That might be less than Monk could get elsewhere, but it would allow him to hit free agency again the following summer, when the Lakers would have his full Bird rights to pay him up to $11 million annually.
That last option is obviously the likeliest to being palatable for Monk’s side, especially if they really want him to remain in Los Angeles. That is likely why Pelinka is already selling their partnership as a win-win, because in addition to being a mostly accurate summation, that’s also likely going to have to be what they get Monk to believe this offseason: That Los Angeles is still the best place for him to earn a long-term pay-day.
Monk could take a two-year TMLE with a player option for the second year like Nunn did while trying to raise his own market value last summer, and then just re-enter free agency and take the highest bid next offseason, while still having a safety net of one more year under contract should he disappoint or get injured.
It should also be noted that Monk has clearly never felt the level of trust, comfort and freedom in the NBA as he has in Los Angeles, and definitely seems to be enjoying the lifestyle as well. So there are real reasons that he might re-sign with the Lakers. They just probably won’t be financial. That, as much as anything, is probably why Pelinka is getting ahead of the conversation on how much of a win-win this season was, and how it could continue to be moving forward if Monk stays.