The Lakers growing track record of finding diamonds in the rough, whether through the draft, G-League or both, has seen its newest gem flourish this year in Austin Reaves. The undrafted second-year guard has not only improved this season, he’s been one of the Lakers best players and certainly one of their most consistent.
No matter the role he’s been thrust in, from starter to reserve, to shooting guard or small forward or, most recently, backup point guard, Reaves has excelled. His points per game are up, his assists per game are up, and he’s doing it at greater efficiency as a shooter.
The caveat with these types of players is that the Lakers are forced into decisions on them early on. As what happened to Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso before him, Reaves is set for free agency this summer and while it’s restricted free agency, it will still be one of a number of hurdles for the Lakers to clear.
And considering how things played out the last time the Lakers had the chance to bring back one of these gems in Caruso, the concerns are high amongst fans. But rest easy — or at least easier — because it sounds like both the Lakers and Reaves want to get a deal done.
On Thursday, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype released his podcast with Jovan Buha of The Athletic in which the two discussed a number of Lakers topics and revealed some insight into Reaves’ upcoming free agency.
Scotto: Both Austin Reaves and the Lakers want to get a deal done, I’ve been told. With that said, I’ve also heard multiple teams have Reaves on their free agency radar. The Lakers can offer him up to four years, $50 million. Something to keep an eye on, in my opinion, would be a Talen Horton-Tucker type of contract that could make sense for both sides with a two-plus-one (two years guaranteed and a third-year option). I think the mid-level exception is his floor. Other teams don’t mind being used as leverage against the Lakers as a big market team. Reaves has played well as a lead facilitator and an efficient scorer for the second unit.
As encouraging and optimistic as that report is — aside from the fact that multiple teams are interested in him — mutual interest is not an agreed-upon deal. The Lakers interest in re-signing him might be at a much lower number than Reaves’ interest in returning to Los Angeles.
Again, harkening back to Caruso, he had interest in returning to Los Angeles and the Lakers had interest in giving him a contract, but it wasn’t close to market value. Perhaps their inability to replace Caruso will serve as a warning to not repeat their mistake again, but as Buha noted in the podcast, the situations have similarities.
Buha: This is kind of lining up to potentially be another Alex Caruso situation where he wants to be there, and the Lakers want to retain him, but if they try to get a little too cute with the offer or negotiation, I could see him potentially leaving and going somewhere where he’s going to get the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got some cap space into the $12-15 million range from a team.
Reaves and Caruso are going to be the easy comparisons and those have long been made. The upcoming deal for Reaves is going to be in the same ballpark as Caruso’s deal which was deemed too pricey for the Lakers. Recently, Keith Smith at SpoTrac wrote about what Reaves’ next contract could look like and landed on a deal in the range of $15 million annually.
If it’s starting to feel like deja vu all over again, then you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. The situation both with Reaves and the team is a bit different. Perhaps the most notable difference is that Reaves has one very important backer in his corner in owner Jeanie Buss.
When the Nets, in exchange for Kyrie Irving, asked for literally everything the Lakers could trade at the deadline — and even some things they couldn’t — the line was drawn at Reaves with Buss being one of those pushing back on including him.
Scotto: ...You touched on some of the Brooklyn stuff. I’ll add to that very briefly. You touched on those other tradable assets the Lakers had that the Nets wanted. Austin Reaves was one of those guys that came up. I heard among the people who wanted to keep Austin in LA was Jeanie Buss. That’s a good advocate to have on your side if you’re a Laker.
The situations with Caruso and Reaves are going to be compared a lot heading into this summer, much like they’ve been compared on the basketball court. But like their skills on the court, the two situations are different.
Reaves is a piece among many that the Lakers have to juggle this summer. But he’s a valuable role player and has consistently improved and the Lakers aren’t going to have quite the luxury tax bill they had when Caruso was a free agent and, truthfully, perhaps learned a lesson in undervaluing Caruso.
None of this guarantees Reaves will be a Laker in the future, but a lot of signs are pointing to that.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.