Since the Los Angeles Lakers overhauled their roster at the trade deadline, they’ve gone 12-7, which is one of the best records in the NBA during that time. The new players have helped greatly, however, the Lakers can attribute a large share of their success lately to one of the few players to return to the team from last season: Austin Reaves.
Reaves, who continues to pay dividends for both the team and fans who bought stock in him during his 2021-22 rookie season, has scored 15.7 points per game since the deadline, standing out lately as arguably the Lakers’ second-best player with LeBron James out. And honestly, before Anthony Davis’s monster 37-point performance against the Thunder on Friday, there’s been games lately where Reaves has been the Lakers’ best performer. This was no more evident than in the Mar. 19 win against the Magic, where he scored a career-high 35 points.
But here comes the bad news... Reaves will be a restricted free agent this summer. Yes, after only two full seasons with the Lakers, Reaves will be able to test free agency, albeit in a restricted manner. Luckily, it seems as if the man himself does want to stay with the Lakers, as he had the following exchange on the “Point Forward” podcast when asked by host and former NBA player Evan Turner what he expects the next 5-10 years of his career to look like:
Turner: “Ideally, what do you want your next 5-10 year plan to look like?”
Reaves: “Obviously I still want to be hooping.”
Turner: “The Lakers? Or you’re just gonna be like ‘Bron, you’re hiding me too much, I gotta get up outta here.”
Reaves: “Nah, he don’t... (laughs) like I said, me and Bron have a good chemistry. I would like to be here, it’s the NBA though, it’s a business at the end of the day. And unfortunately for me I wasn’t talented enough to come in the league at 18, 19 years old, so I’m a couple contracts behind somebody that is a one-and-done. So anybody that says we don’t play the game (for money) to me is lying, because I feel like ‘if you wasn’t getting paid, you wouldn’t be here doing it.’ Obviously everybody loves the game, but I want to make as much money as I can and be as successful as I can no matter where it’s at.”
Despite a large, probable contract number of approximately $50 million, there’s optimism to be had for the Lakers retaining Reaves. That optimism stems from both the so-called Arenas Rule, which limits what other teams can offer him — which you can read an in-depth explainer on from Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report here — but also from a report that indicated owner Jeanie Buss wants to keep him.
The latter is important, as the only real internal roadblock towards keeping Reaves in-house is the added luxury tax that will result which will impact the Buss family’s pockets, as they can match any offer a team throws his way by virtue of him being a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted one.
But even though Reaves’ quote from the podcast above mostly reads as promising in regards to the Lakers’ chances of retaining him, some pessimism can be taken from him talking about wanting to make as much money as he can while he’s lucky enough to be good enough to be an NBA player. That is, of course, Reaves’ right that he has 100% earned just like any worker seeking proper value for their services in a limited career, but it could lead to his exit from Los Angeles if the Lakers balk at the maximum possible offer or less.
A team would have to have significant cap space this summer and the inclination to pay Reaves maximum contract money 3-4 years from now, but if that team exists and Reaves really leans into the pursuit of securing as much money as he can as soon as he can do it, then maybe we Lakers fans do have something to worry about here if the team feels like he’s not worth the type of contract of up to nearly $100 million over four years that Pincus outlined he could be eligible for if a team backloads the last two years of his upcoming deal:
A team with cap room can offer Reaves up to four years, with the last two years as high as a maximum salary. The offering franchise would need up to $24.7 million in cap room, but a max deal would have the following structure:
Year 1: $11,368,000 (non-taxpayer mid-level exception)
Year 2: $11,936,400 (five percent raise)
Year 3: $36,850,000 (as if he were paid the maximum in years 1 and 2)
Year 4: $38,525,000 (4.5 percent raise)
ICYMI on Austin Reaves and his potential contract showdown (Arenas Rule) with the Lakers @BleacherReporthttps://t.co/db1CEBs1Ys— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) March 25, 2023
Of course, that’s just the worst-case scenario, and just because it’s a possibility doesn’t mean it’s likely. Most signs are starting to point towards Reaves staying in L.A. for at least the next couple of years, and hopefully even more after that given his desires to remain in the purple-and-gold.
You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.