There isn’t much left to be said that we haven’t written a million times already on just how astounding Austin Reaves’ journey from undrafted rookie to top-five player on the Lakers during his playoff debut in his second season really is.
As anyone reading this site is also no doubt aware, Reaves will enter restricted free agency this summer, where — according to the calculations of Bleacher Report cap expert Eric Pincus — the Lakers can either re-sign him to a four-year deal worth approximately $53.3 million over four years, which is the most they can offer outright, or match any offer another team extends Reaves, which can explode to as high as four years and $98 million via the last two seasons being allowed to balloon up to $36 and $38 million, respectively.
In short, whether or not to keep Reaves will ultimately be up to the Lakers. For his part, he’s been candid all season about his desire to remain in purple and gold for life but also refreshingly honest in admitting that this will also be a business decision for him at the end of the day. And in a recent profile by Dave McMenamin of ESPN, Reaves acknowledged that his big opportunity to earn generational wealth this summer is definitely on his mind:
“I think about it quite a bit, honestly,” Reaves said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, just because, I’ve played basketball for so long and in college, there wasn’t an NIL deal, so I was basically playing for free. You get your school paid for, but I wasn’t that interested in school. So just to see and have the opportunity for all the times that I’ve questioned basketball — even in high school, like, ‘Am I ever going to get a Division I offer?’ When I’m at Wichita State, ‘Am I going to get an increased role?’ Really getting to a place here I can be myself, it means a lot that, all the time that I put in that it’s coming to the top now.”
While there will surely be a subset of fans that want Reaves to only be thinking about the playoffs, the reality is that’s not how human brains work. Of course he’s thinking about how much he can make this summer. How could he not? The reality is that he’s never come anywhere close to earning money on the level he’s expected to be offered (reports paint his likely end-point as between $50 and $70 million over four years, after making around $1 million per season annually the last two years). Anyone would be thinking about that.
But that also doesn’t mean Reaves is only thinking about the money, either. He’s been one of the Lakers’ best players in the postseason, so it would be hard to argue he’s distracted, and he’s not just chasing a payday. He seems genuine about his desire to stay with the team that believed in him from the start, and reiterated to McMenamin that he hopes he never has to leave Los Angeles:
“I would love to be here my whole career,” Reaves said. “Just the way that the fans treat me, the love they have for me, as an undrafted player, it’s kind of like they raised me type of vibe. ... It feels like it’s meant to be. It feels like this all happened for a reason and this is where I should be.”
Does that mean he will never play anywhere else? In the modern NBA — and especially with a franchise as roster-churn-heavy as this one — it seems unlikely. But there is no reason Reaves shouldn’t be brought back this offseason, as the amount of growth, maturity, skill, toughness and killer instinct he’s shown in, again, JUST HIS SECOND SEASON AND PLAYOFF DEBUT, can’t be overstated:
Given that he wants to remain here and that the Lakers have given every indication that they feel the same way, it’s hard not to imagine their partnership continuing well after this playoff run ends, whenever that is. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Reaves will take a huge discount off of whatever his market value is, but all signs point towards the two sides reaching a middle ground that works for both of them eventually. So while Reaves will surely keep thinking about his big summer ahead, at least he can probably do so without a whole lot of doubt about where things will eventually end up.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.