After an improbable run to the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have a host of decisions to make this offseason. Of the 15 players on the postseason roster, only three players are outright guaranteed to be on the roster next season.
A mixture of non-guaranteed contracts, team options and unrestricted and restricted free agents, the Lakers will have to decide how to build out their roster and whether they should run it back. That’s certainly the approach president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka seems set to take based on his comments during his exit interview, but it’ll be a costly venture.
Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports looked at the offseason ahead for the Lakers on Thursday with lots of insight on a number of players. While the entire article is worth a read, let’s take a look at the notable takeaways on a number of Lakers.
Along with Rui Hachimura — who Fischer talked about with his upcoming free agency — Austin Reaves will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Lakers reportedly intend on matching any offer sheet, but the hope is they won’t have to get to that point.
The good news for Lakers fans is Fischer said it would be a “true shock” if Reaves or Hachimura were not a Laker next season. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Reaves, or Rui, will be cheap.
In an ideal world for Los Angeles, they sign the undrafted combo guard to the four-year deal north of $50 million its limited to offering, which would allow the Lakers to still have access to the $12.2 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception worth roughly $4.5 million, and then fill out the rest of the roster with veteran minimums in addition to re-signing Hachimura and Russell with Bird rights. If another team swoops in and offers Reaves above that threshold, it will hamstring Los Angeles’ efforts to not just bring this group back, but add to it while remaining under the second apron.
It would be a huge bonus for the Lakers to have Reaves sign for the maximum they can offer and not an offer sheet from another team, as it would allow them the full mid-level exception. But that should in no way factor in Reaves’ own decision. Always secure the bag.
While it seems like a certainty that Reaves will be back, the same can’t be said for D’Angelo Russell. After playing bigger roles in the regular season and in the first two rounds, Russell’s poor play vs. Denver led to him getting benched.
It raises questions about his future that weren’t there with the Lakers and Russell previously having extension discussions. Now? Russell’s value is a bit of an unknown.
Then there’s the matter of Russell, who was seeking a new deal worth upward of $100 million over four years when he was with the Timberwolves, sources said. After an inconsistent postseason, it’s hard to imagine many bidders for Russell at that price point. That could certainly benefit the Lakers if they intend to retain him. He was the headliner, after all, of Los Angeles’ return from February’s three-team swap that sent out a first-round pick in addition to Russell Westbrook’s expiring salary, and also netted Beasley and Vanderbilt. Russell, though, does not bring the defensive tenacity preferred by head coach Darvin Ham. And the Lakers may be wise in exploring sign-and-trade scenarios that could bring back a player that fits more cohesively with this roster.
What perhaps hasn’t been discussed enough regarding Russell is how much the vibes changed when he entered the picture (and Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook left). Players aren’t paid tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for good vibes, but that should be noted.
The middle ground could be a short-term deal between the Lakers and Russell this summer, as Fischer mentions.
But Russell was also viewed as a positive presence around the Lakers, sources said. Even as his time watching from the bench increased, he was still flashing the team’s 3-point celebration when teammates connected from deep. Perhaps a short-term agreement can get Russell closer to the average annual value he was said to be seeking. A two-year deal worth roughly $40 million could give Russell his riches and also leave the Lakers with a movable contract should they desire that type of flexibility.
Russell was fantastic at times this year. But are the Lakers willing to pay him when the highs are high and the lows are low?
Dennis Schröder, Lonnie Walker
Lastly are a pair of role players off the bench for the Lakers. Lonnie Walker IV had one of the most memorable performances in recent Lakers franchise history in Game 4 against Golden State while Dennis was a constant, important presence for the Lakers all playoffs long.
Both enter unrestricted free agency, and both are set for pay raises that could quickly price them out of returns.
You can bet Lonnie Walker searches for his own payday following a breakout playoffs, particularly his electric Game 4 effort against the Golden State Warriors. Dennis Schröder won’t be easy to retain, either. If Los Angeles is able to keep its full mid-level available, perhaps it can keep Schroder at that salary slot. If the Lakers can persuade Schröder to instead settle for the $4.5 million bi-annual exception, almost twice his veteran minimum’s salary from this season, Los Angeles could reward him with a four-year, $58 million deal starting in 2024-25, similar to how Nicolas Batum and Bobby Portis stuck around the Clippers and Bucks, respectively — and that would leave the Lakers with a pick of mid-level-caliber free agents.
Lonnie looks set to follow the Malik Monk path of coming to the Lakers on a prove-it deal, proving it, and getting a big payday. Dennis, however, is a more interesting case.
No one could blame him if he simply sought the biggest payday he could find after fumbling the bag a few seasons ago. But, the fact he returned to the Lakers on a discount and has had two strong seasons with the team across his stints does lend some credence to the notion that he could remain in Los Angeles.
Yet while Schröder is known to have an affinity for Los Angeles and playing under Ham, it would be hard to fault the veteran from searching for a richer reward elsewhere, especially after two consecutive seasons earning well below his market value. Schröder proved himself to be one of the premier backup point guards in the NBA these playoffs and merged into the Lakers’ starting lineup at various stretches of the campaign. Any salary structure that is at least comparable to Tyus Jones’ recent two-year, $29 million deal in Memphis, with Jones regarded as another elite reserve floor general at worst and quality starter at best, would seem a reasonable starting point for Schröder’s services.
Dennis was an extremely valuable player in the postseason and a huge part of the success the Lakers had this season. Losing him would be a potentially underrated loss for the Lakers, but it also may be a situation out of their control.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.