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Jarred Vanderbilt’s contract extension is a worthwhile overpay

Vando’s potential to live up to this multi-year extension isn’t among the biggest reasons this deal makes sense for the Lakers.

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2023 NBA Summer League Photo by Tom O’Connor/NBAE via Getty Images

When Vando came to town in the trade that banished Lakers Voldemort, he was widely viewed as a virtual throw-in. By dint of his combo of intensity and length, unmatched by the rest of the Lakers’ perimeter defenders, Vando clawed his way into a starting role and was a central figure in the team’s resurgence into the playoffs. However, as the postseason went on, Vando’s role shrunk until he barely played at all, ultimately receiving a CD-DNP in the final game of the Lakers’ season.

As the intensity of games grew, the difficulties of scoring through a lack of shooting did too. Vando — a below-average shooter on barely any volume — exacerbated the Lakers’ spacing issues, an issue he couldn’t mitigate as an equally poor finisher around the rim and as a defender matchup-dependent rebounder for his size and position.

Now, he’s set to make almost three times what he’s making this season once this extension kicks in, an increase that feels steep for a guy who was eventually just a bit player when it mattered most.

Even so, there may be legitimate reasons to believe that Jarred Vanderbilt can live up to his new four-year, $48 million extension that kicks in next season. He’s just 24, and any marginal improvement in the speed of his shot release or accuracy would make him infinitely more playable. Regardless, Vando’s on-court contributions are not among the biggest reasons to favor his retention.

Probably least importantly, but notably nonetheless, the deal augments an already good relationship between the Lakers and their biggest stars’ representative — Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group. Without speculating on the nature of any Laker player’s influence over the direction of the agency bankrolled by Hollywood powerhouse United Talent Agency, the Lakers have remained in consistent business with the agency’s Klientele. The fruits of that partnership goes beyond just LeBron James and Anthony Davis — including a string of recent three-name Lakers like Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr., Talen Horton-Tucker, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The sticker-shock of a four-year, $48 million deal for a mid-to-late rotation player hits hard in 2023, considering it’s equal to or larger than the deals signed by superior frontcourt players like Robert Williams III, Ivica Zubac, Al Horford, and Larry Nance Jr. However, the context of the impending NBA salary cap reality takes away some of that bite. Although the new CBA prevents the salary cap from jumping more than 10% in any given season to prevent an existing contender from remaining whole and adding a superstar (as the Warriors did with Kevin Durant in 2016), the early projections suggest that the league’s growth will approach that rate. Since Vanderbilt’s salary isn’t tied to a percentage of the total salary cap like max contracts are, it will only look like a better bargain as the contracts signed around his balloon.

Finally, Vanderbilt’s deal is a mid-sized contract capable of being packaged with a few other similarly-sized ones to match salary in a potential trade for a highly-paid, big-name player. Taken with the fact that the Lakers are set to have five of these “middle class” salaries on their roster in 2024-25, they can fairly easily figure out the salary part of a consolidation trade if the right opportunity comes around. Even though one of those guys (Austin Reaves) is almost certainly untouchable, another similarly-sized contract gives the Lakers an extra level of optionality as they figure out what their future ought to look like.

If Vanderbilt does end up showing off any offseason improvements made heading into his sixth NBA season, then the Lakers can stand pat, hold onto their future draft picks, and reap the rewards of growth from within.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.

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