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Lakers Season in Review: Malik Monk

Malik Monk's career year was one of the few bright spots of the Lakers’ season. It also has set him up to be their most difficult player to retain.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Welcome to our annual Lakers season in review series, where we’ll be taking a look back at every player on the team’s roster this season, evaluating their play, and deciding if they should be a part of the organization’s future. Today, we take a closer look at Malik Monk.

How did he play?

A lot went wrong for the Lakers this season. They know it, fans know it and soon the blame game and reshuffling of the deck will happen because of it.

However, there were also bright spots within the muck that offered glimmers of promise and intrigue that kept us watching. Diamonds in the rough to clasp onto, dust off and take away in hopes of serving as a sign of better days ahead. In the case of Malik Monk, his play, and career year, proved to be perhaps the most illuminating.

At still just 24, Monk took a calculated gamble this past offseason when he inked a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal with the Lakers. The risk paid off. In his 76 games with the team, the wiry guard posted career highs in games played, minutes, points, assists and true-shooting percentage while also becoming an instant fan favorite thanks to his scoring outbursts.

Monk thrived from being on the receiving end of the playmaking chops of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, which in turn streamlined his role and limited any chances of self-destruction. Instead of pounding the air out of the ball or hoisting errant shots, he darted off screens, made a ton of open jumpers and beyond all else, was positioned to succeed for the first time in his career.

Beyond just putting up individual numbers, Monk also emerged as one the team’s most reliable contributors. While he ultimately did not make drastic strides on the defensive side of the floor — an area his size will likely always hinder his ceiling on — Monk’s overall impact was arguably it’s most positive since he was drafted 11th overall in 2017.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers’ efficiency differential (team points scored over 100 possessions minus team points allowed over 100 possessions) was 6.6 points better with Monk on the floor compared to when he was off. The mark was Monk’s best to date, and also ranked in the 86th percentile of the league.

The shift from gaudy stats to tangible impact is one of the most important plateaus young players must reach, and for Monk, he made his biggest strides toward the summit yet.

What is his contract situation moving forward?

After signing what was essentially a bet on himself with his aforementioned minimum deal, Monk is set to enter free agency this summer with momentum on his side. And although the market will likely be as volatile as ever, it is safe to assume Monk will net a considerable raise in his next deal after his strong season.

In terms of the Lakers’ routes in re-signing the guard, their options are limited, but not necessarily closed. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the team will be able to re-sign Monk “only by either offering him 120% of the veteran minimum (roughly $2 million) or using the taxpayer’s midlevel exception, estimated to be worth around $6.3 million.”

Whether or not either of those dollar amounts will suffice what Monk and his camp are looking for remains to be seen, as early polls and projections of his next deal have him earning an average annual value between $ 5 million and $ 10 million.

If the Lakers and Monk were to come to terms on a raise via the team’s taxpayer mid-level exception this summer, it could create another future avenue if both parties agree want to come back to the table and revisit a longer — and more lucrative — deal next offseason, as outlined below by Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus:

Instead, the Lakers should be limited to their taxpayer mid-level exception at about $6.2 million, which would not trigger a hard cap. At that price, Monk may not want to lock in a long-term deal to hit free agency again in 2023.

At that point, Los Angeles would have Monk’s Early Bird rights and the ability to start his next contract in the $11 million range (for at least two to four years). That’s comparable to Reggie Jackson’s deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, on a two-year, $21.6 million contract signed this past offseason via Early Bird.

Should he be back?

Barring any seismic changes to the roster, the Lakers will likely be operating once again under firm restrictions when it comes to fleshing out and improving their team. This puts an onus on nailing their mid-level signing, given their only other means for additions are via minimum deals or trade. The team saw the very downside of this with Kendrick Nunn this season.

While Monk outperformed all expectations heading into the year, and was also one of the few representatives of youth on the club, the team still does have a glaring hole at the wing spot that may be a more urgent need. And within the current basketball landscape where the position is becoming more scarce and coveted, there’s a sound argument for the team to make getting a wing a bigger priority than retaining Monk.

But if the team were to opt to invest elsewhere, it won’t be easy to replace the type of firepower Monk provided, while also acknowledging his seamless fit next to the likes of James and Anthony Davis. Wings are valuable, but so are skillsets like Monk’s.

Monk’s return may also be a positive first step in the Lakers finally creating a baseline of continuity. After two seasons of drastic roster makeovers, preserving key rotation players like Monk on a year-to-year basis can offer both holistic and on-court benefits the team has lacked.

Ultimately, the Lakers’ best outcome may be looking to shore up the wing position via other avenues like a Westbrook swap, and then attempt to bring Monk back into the fold if they are able. But part of that decision will be in Monk’s hands, and not theirs.

Both parties have already expressed mutual interest in a reunion multiple times throughout the year, and given the success of their first go-around, a sequel could be the best course forward for everyone involved if it were to be green-lit.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.