Now that the Lakers have officially retained both Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell in NBA free agency, they are slated to have 13 players under contract for the 2023-24 season. The maximum teams can carry in-season is 15 (plus three two-way players), but from the sound of things, the Lakers may stay one player under that limit to start the year.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported on Saturday morning that the Lakers want to sign one more center, but in keeping with tradition for general manager Rob Pelinka, the team will stop at 14 players, leaving one roster spot open for an uneven midseason trade or possible buyout addition (while also saving some money in the process, it must be noted):
Austin Reaves’ pact gives the Lakers 13 players under contract for next season.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 1, 2023
The Lakers are still in the market for another big man and will likely carry 14 players into the season, leaving a roster spot open to facilitate a deal or a pickup down the line, sources told ESPN
For those of you just catching up, here are those 13 players:
- LeBron James
- Anthony Davis
- D’Angelo Russell
- Austin Reaves
- Taurean Prince
- Gabe Vincent
- Rui Hachimura
- Jarred Vanderbilt
- Cam Reddish
- Jaxson Hayes
- Max Christie
- Jalen Hood-Schifino
- Maxwell Lewis
As things stand right now, Hayes and Davis are the only centers on the roster (along with two-way rookie Colin Castleton) and so it makes sense that the team might want to add one more big man in case either Hayes or Davis misses time with an injury.
However, they will only have the veteran’s minimum to do so, as the team is right up against the tax line, which they can only exceed using salary cap exceptions (in this case, the veteran’s minimum):
Austin Reaves cap hits:— Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan) July 1, 2023
$400k less this season had he signed a big offer sheet.
Lakers are $1.3M below the tax and $8.2M below the hard cap with 13 players after they sign Maxwell Lewis to a rookie minimum. https://t.co/M4MyPfRFfx
The team could spend further into the first apron and towards the hard cap if they re-signed Malik Beasley using Bird Rights, but that seems unlikely if they plan to fill the 14th spot with a center. They don’t have that option with Mo Bamba, no matter how much he reportedly wants to come back, so he would have to take the minimum. The team could also bring back Tristan Thompson or Wenyen Gabriel, or sign a center off the free agent market that hasn’t already played for them.
As noted above, there are legitimate basketball reasons to go that route — Davis has played an average of 48 games per season during his four years in Los Angeles — but relying on two minimum centers to replace him for any time he does miss could end up being extremely problematic.
The team will also save a good chunk of change by only slightly dipping into the luxury tax until midseason at the earliest, especially because, as Sam Quinn of CBS Sports points out, Lakers would be a repeater tax team this season, making luxury tax penalties even more expensive (he outlined those penalties well in an explainer here):
I don’t think the Lakers are operating under a “must avoid the tax” mandate this season, to be clear. However, they are a repeater team this season, so if there’s a chance to get under without hurting the on-court product, I think that’s something the Lakers would consider. https://t.co/whqrFE0jWv— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) July 1, 2023
None of that is to say they really have any better options at this point, given how barren the center market was beyond guys who got way more money than the Lakers could legally give them, but it’s still worth keeping in mind as they head towards the season.
For now, though: Which mystery center would you like to see them target with that 14th roster spot? Let us know in the comments below.
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.