Even after a flurry of signings to open up NBA free agency, the Lakers still have several roster spots left to fill as the offseason continues. As of Friday night, the team’s roster stands at 10 players either under contract or reportedly set to sign a deal soon — not including Austin Reaves, who is also likely to be back — and it sounds like there is still a chance that either (or both) of Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell return as one of the final 15 when the regular season begins (13 is the league minimum in-season).
The Lakers appear set for the hard cap as a result of their signings of Taurean Prince and Gabe Vincent, but the team still has Bird Rights on both Beasley and Russell, allowing them to pay either player more than the veteran’s minimum to return as long as they stay under the first apron (more on that in a second). And according to the latest dispatch from Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, it sounds like both players coming back is still on the table (to varying degrees):
While the Lakers declined Beasley’s $16.5 million player option for 2023-24, Pelinka holds the shooting wing in high regard, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and there were discussions into Friday evening about Beasley potentially returning to the Lakers. Russell’s status remains undetermined, although there was mutual interest in his return to Los Angeles when free agency began, sources said.
If the Lakers did indeed use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception on Vincent or the bi-annual exception on Prince — rather than signing both players into cap space by renouncing their cap holds on Russell, etc. — that would hard cap the team at the “first apron” of $172 million. And according to salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan, the team was $43 million below that level after signing Hachimura, meaning that they would have to fit Reaves (set to cost approximately $12.4 million in the first year of his deal whether it’s an offer sheet or not) and anyone else they sign within that level of space.
Why does all that matter? Because long story short, the Lakers can still offer Beasley and Russell more than the veteran’s minimum, giving the team a) access to theoretically better players in those two than they could replace them with and b) more tradeable contracts if they do opt to make moves this year.
Beasley at nearly $17 million may have been unpalatable to the Lakers as an asset, but if he was willing to take about half that his money would be significantly more moveable and reasonable for the team to keep around. And while Russell would still likely be “overpaid” compared to what he can get on the market if he comes back, it would be on a reasonable enough salary that his contract could be used as trade ballast if the team opts to go a different direction.
And again, the Lakers are not going to get a better player than either of these guys on the open market without some sort of sign-and-trade or renouncing Reaves, etc. That’s probably why the team is keeping in contact with both and leaving their options open, and also likely why both players would still be somewhat open to a return: Other teams don’t have their Bird Rights, and as such would have to sign them into (rapidly dwindling) cap space or similar exceptions as the Lakers have access to (i.e. less than they could get from the Lakers).
We’ll see if either will ultimately decide to run it back, but those are the functional reasons why such moves are still reportedly on the table. Beasley and Russell are both flawed playoff players, but they’re good regular-season innings eaters who have shown a propensity for heaters, and are playable (to varying degrees) in the right postseason matchups — or at least Russell is. That’s worth keeping around if the Lakers can find a mutually beneficial price.
For all the latest on NBA free agency, check out our Silver Screen and Roll Lakers free agency rumors tracker. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.