File this under “duh,” but it’s notable to have it for the record nonetheless: In case you were wondering if the Lakers would be giving D’Angelo Russell the most possible money they can give him in an extension to avoid him entering unrestricted free agency in July, the answer to that question is a definitive “no.”
Again, this is not a shock after Russell’s performance in the Western Conference Finals, but it’s still worth noting that Dave McMenamin of ESPN has confirmed it nonetheless:
Russell is eligible to sign a two-year, $67.5 million extension by June 30, which the Lakers will not pursue at the max number, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.
Beyond just on-court concerns for the postseason, the next graf of McMenamin’s story summarized well why the Lakers may not be eager to set the market for Russell themselves:
And the market could be flat for the 27-year-old Russell, as the teams with that type of cap space this summer — Houston, San Antonio, Utah, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Detroit and Indiana — are either still in rebuild mode or already filled at the position.
And as I wrote when discussing an earlier report that Russell and the Lakers had tabled extension talks until the offseason, these two facts are exactly why I wouldn’t expect anything to get done until free agency opens up:
From the moment the trade for him was made, there has been noise that both sides have “mutual” interest in keeping Russell in a Laker uniform long-term. However, whatever Russell’s next contract is, it appears likely to come in well under the $38 million annually his cap hold currently is.
But for the same reasons as Reaves and Hachimura, if the Lakers lose Russell for nothing, they don’t just have that much money to go out and sign just as expensive of a player because of how close to the cap they are. So both sides have some leverage; the Lakers in that Russell is unlikely to get more from another suitor in an NBA where so many teams already have starting point guards, and Russell in that the Lakers can’t necessarily just afford to lose him for nothing. For that reason, his free-agent saga will be fascinating to watch.
Since then, Russell has said on-record at exit interviews that he wants to return. If that’s the case, based on this report and just common sense, he will likely have to do so for far less than the $100 million over four years he was reportedly seeking in extension talks with the Timberwolves earlier this year.
Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports wrote on Thursday that “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.” So maybe that’s the middle ground for both sides, or maybe it’s higher or lower than that. Maybe they’ll even extend him for less than that max number just to give both sides one less thing to worry about in July. Or maybe they’ll part ways altogether.
As always, it’s important to remember that “movable contract” part. The Lakers (and their fans) saw over the last two years of trade deadline efforts from the team that it’s not always easy to make deals if you don’t have mid-sized contracts to attach draft picks to, rather than gigantic ones. Even the biggest Russell postseason pessimists should be able to acknowledge that even if you don’t count the good games he had in the first two rounds to help the Lakers reach the conference finals, he is still a helpful regular season player that a) the Lakers probably can’t replace with a minimum contract guy b) could still attach a draft pick (or picks) to in order to get a better, more reliable playoff player.
As much as, to paraphrase the great philosopher Kevin Durant, no one wants to look at salary sheets while having a hoop convo, the Lakers have to consider all the pluses and minuses of keeping Russell, even the ones that have less to do with his playoff performance and more to do with balancing their books as they look to build the most competitive team possible moving forward.
But we will continue to discuss all those things and more in more depth as the offseason rolls along. All we know for certain, at least for now, is that if Russell does want to come back to Los Angeles rather than exit elsewhere for a second time, he will likely have to do so at a steep discount from the max he can get.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.