From the moment Jarred Vanderbilt stepped on the floor for the Lakers after the trade deadline, the team keeping his cheap, $4.7 million contract for next season seemed like a near certainty. A 24-year-old forward who can take tougher wing assignments so LeBron James doesn’t have to who is versatile enough to credibly guard players ranging from Brandon Ingram to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? Even with his offensive limitations, the Lakers trying to keep The Vandolorian around at that price was as close to a sure thing as possible.
So while a report about how that’s exactly what the Lakers plan on doing is unlikely to floor anyone, it is still notable, especially when it comes from the very plugged-in Jovan Buha of The Athletic as part of a longer feature that is an all-encompassing, great read on Vanderbilt’s basketball journey. And according to Buha, it seems like the feeling is mutual, and Vanderbilt might even want to stay beyond the 2023-24 campaign (emphasis mine):
Vanderbilt has a $4.7 million team option for next season, one the Lakers plan on exercising. He’s hopeful he can put down roots in Los Angeles as part of what he deems a “high-caliber organization.”
Again, Buha’s whole feature on Vando is very much worth a read in its entirety for any Lakers fan who wants to get to know this team better, but for now let’s focus on the implications of this information.
For one thing, a reunion next year always seemed inevitable for all the reasons listed above, as well as the fact that only $300,000 of Vanderbilt’s deal for next year is guaranteed. Plans change, and Vando could always be traded or cut until he’s not, but to put it simply, there is almost no way the Lakers are going to get a better player on a more favorable contract than him.
If the team is indeed keeping Vanderbilt, however, it will further speculation that they’re looking to run things back with at least a decent chunk of their current roster. With Vando under contract, the Lakers are even more limited in how much cap space they can generate this summer, to say nothing of the reality that even letting pretty much every other non-guaranteed player leave would only leave them with a little over $30 million and minimum contracts to fill out the rest of the roster, which is unlikely to be more effective than the status quo.
Now, will Vanderbilt be worth the extension he’ll likely be seeking to remain in Los Angeles beyond next season? This playoff run will tell us a lot about that. If he continues to look like a bonafide defensive stopper and can hit enough threes while remaining a threat on the offensive glass to keep defenses honest enough to make him playable for his defense, then it would go a long way toward the two sides finding a long-term, lucrative partnership. If he can’t do those things though, and shows similar limitations next season after having an offseason to keep working on the skills that will make his offensive fit alongside James and Davis as seamless as his defensive one, then whether or not he should be a long-term Laker will be a more legitimate question.
But while we — and the Lakers — will start the process of assembling those answers soon, those questions are still for another day. For now, the Lakers are lucky to have Vanderbilt on his current contract and in his current role. And if his journey from second-round pick to playoff-caliber starter and relentless activity on the court are any indications, he’s certainly going to do everything in his power to make sure he earns a larger and longer commitment, too.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.