With NBA free agency just a few weeks away and the 2023 NBA Draft in just six days, rumors about what the Los Angeles Lakers will do in the former period are starting to pick up steam as all the moves made in the latter timeframe are beginning to take shape.
Here are some of the latest whispers and scuttlebutt from the NBA’s information brokers.
The Rockets want Austin Reaves
The Athletic’s Houston Rockets beat writer, Kelly Iko, already reported last month that the Rockets have interest in Lakers restricted free agent Austin Reaves, and it seems like word is getting around. During a conversation on “The HoopsHype Podcast with Michael Scotto,” Scotto himself also reported that Houston wants Reaves, with Iko concurring that they have “a lot” of interest in the former undrafted free agent and new signature shoe pitchman:
Scotto: Should Harden not come to Houston, the Rockets are expected to have interest in Lakers restricted free agent Austin Reaves, I’m told.
Iko: Reaves is a guy they like a lot.
With more and more smoke signals emanating that the Rockets don’t want to give James Harden the max and that he really may stay in Philadelphia with the Sixers — for the latest, check out this tracker from our friends at Liberty Ballers — it does seem like Reaves is a bit of a potential backup plan for them.
According to salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan, Houston can have anywhere between $49 to $65 million in cap space this summer, more than enough to offer Reaves his full four-year max of approximately $94 million that would start around $11 million per year.
Now, the Lakers have leaked over and over again that they will match any offer sheet for Reaves, something that has even suppressed his market to some degree, according to multiple reports. But all it takes is one team like the Rockets to test the Lakers’ resolve, and all of a sudden retaining Reaves will get much, much more expensive.
And speaking of the Lakers leaking that they will match any offer on Reaves...
Woj is the latest to report Lakers (mostly) plan to run it back with Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell
During an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up,” preeminent NBA scoopsman Adrian Wojnarowski offered up some thoughts on how the Lakers will handle their offseason. He did use the words “I think,” so this was not ironclad, definitive reporting of the sort that he would break the internet with in a tweet, but given how much Woj knows around the NBA (and how much he’s been plugged into the Lakers since Rob Pelinka took over) even his informed analysis of the Lakers’ plans is worth discussing (emphasis mine):
“It starts with keeping the young players they have, one they acquired, Rui Hachimura, in the trade with Washington, and Austin Reaves, who they brought in and have developed. They’re both restricted free agents. I think their No. 1 goal is they’re not letting either of those two out of the building. They’re going to match offer sheets for them or see if they can get to an extension on either of them.”
D’Angelo Russell’s future in Los Angeles, meanwhile, is less clear-cut, as Woj noted:
“D’Angelo Russell, can they get to a contract number that makes sense for them as their point guard?”
The Lakers have already indicated that they will not give Russell a max contract, but he likely doesn’t expect that anyway. And (at least seemingly) without much of a market above opposing teams’ mid-level exceptions and with the Lakers possessing his Bird rights, bringing him back on an above-market, but still team-friendly deal still likely is the scenario that makes the most sense for both parties.
However, there have also been plenty of whispers about the team preferring to use Russell in a sign-and-trade, and already “exploring” such scenarios. Could that be due to them having another point guard option in mind who might be more affordable? It seems feasible, because...
Is Chris Paul in the mix for the Lakers?
That’s a question worth asking after the rest of that clip from Woj, who once again indicates that Paul will likely be choosing between the two Los Angeles teams once he is eventually cut by the Suns or the team they trade him to (emphasis mine):
“They’ve got their exceptions. They can go out there in free agency and get another player who can be helpful. Is Chris Paul going to be available in free agency? Whether he gets waived in Phoenix, or traded and waived somewhere else as part of another deal, and staying in Los Angeles where he’s got his home? The Lakers, the Clippers are going to be prominent in that conversation.
“But there’s no big-game hunting out there for this Laker organization. In this league right now, with the new collective bargaining agreement, you can’t really pay and have three max contracts, three superstars and expect to have any depth on their roster. It (their roster) is going to look a lot the same, but think about a team next year that goes the entire season with Hachimura, with Reaves as your starter, they’ve got a chance to very, very competitive in the West.”
That second part certainly makes sense, especially with the Lakers looking to avoid the ultra-punitive second apron (which makes sense under the new, extremely owner-friendly CBA that has successfully incentivized fans to be on management’s side when it comes to payroll with its harsh penalties for big spenders that are almost a hard cap in reality).
But as for Paul, from the moment it was clear his time with the Suns was done, he’s been getting connected to the Lakers. He’s close friends with LeBron James (James was the best man in Paul’s wedding) and even aside from The Veto, the team has had interest in adding him dating back to 2021.
And if Paul is actually available for either the team’s mid-level exception ($12.2 million) or bi-annual exception ($4.4 million), then adding him as a potentially much cheaper Russell replacement could make sense. Although, given the 12-time All-Star’s penchant for spectacular playoff flameouts, it may not solve fans’ biggest issue with Russell, especially entering a season in which Paul will turn 39 years old. But I digress.
Would you prefer Paul to Russell? Do you want the Lakers to try and add both? Neither? Are you confident the team will actually keep Reaves and Rui? We’ll surely get more on the Lakers’ rumored and actual intentions over the days and weeks to come, but for now, let us know what you think of these latest developments in the comments below.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.