Bobby Marks5 minutes of reading
The Los Angeles Lakers 2022-23 were essentially two different teams. The first team struggled to a 2-10 start and was languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at the midway point. They were the second team to reach the Western Conference finals after going 10 games over .500 in the final 26 games of the season.
Now the Lakers face another offseason full of questions, what kind of team do they want to be?
Position of the list
2022-23 Registration: 43-39
General manager Rob Belinka and the front office have a decision to make. Are they looking for a third star again? Kyrie Irving, but at the expense of their depth? This is highly unlikely for two reasons. It was a repeat of the first half of the season when the Lakers struggled with a top-tier roster. Also, building a roster centered around three players making $130 million under the new collective bargaining agreement to compete for a championship is extremely difficult. Did posting the league’s second-best record after the trade deadline (18-8) and reaching the conference finals confirm that the Lakers should pass on cap flexibility and focus on retaining their young free agents? That’s more likely considering the Lakers have to trade a first-round pick to New Orleans in 2024 and then to Utah in 2027.
The Lakers could make up to $30.5 million through waivers Jared Vanderbilt, I am Bamba, did not exercise Malik Beasley’s team option and waived free agents D’Angelo Russell, Lonnie Walker IV and Rui Hachimura. If they trade up the cap space will increase to $35 million Max Christie And their first round pick. However, the starting number for Irving’s highest salary is $47 million. Resources to build the roster, in a scenario where the Lakers use their $30.5 million in cap space LeBron James And Anthony Davis Restricted free agent Austin Reaves included Christie, a $7.6 million room exception and two draft picks. The rest of the roster will be filled with players signed to the veteran minimum waiver, thus hurting the Lakers’ depth. Davis, Irving and James failed to reach the 65-game mark in each of the past three seasons.
The only scenario in which the Lakers could keep Hachimura and get Irving (unless, of course, Irving signs for $13 million as a free agent) is in a complex sign-and-trade that would require the Mavericks’ cooperation. Due to the $169.5 million hard cap, Irving would have to take a significant discount for the Lakers to retain Hachimura and Reaves. A sign-and-trade would require the Lakers to send salary, either if Bamba and Beasley’s contracts become guaranteed, or if Russell agrees to be part of the transaction (as he did in 2019, when a double-sign-and-trade sent him to Golden State and Kevin Durant to Brooklyn). The Lakers ranked first in points per possession allowed in half-court sets, 14th in offensive efficiency and 18th in 3-point field goal percentage after the trade deadline. To avoid the luxury tax and repeater penalty (for the fourth time in five seasons), Beasley’s option should be declined if the goal is to retain Russell, Walker, Hachimura and Reaves.
With $33.6 million in non-guaranteed salary and the free agent holdings of Russell ($41.3M), Hachimura ($18.8M) and Reaves ($2.2M), the Lakers have over $134 million in salary cap space. The Lakers have until June 29 to exercise Beasley’s $16.5 million team option and guarantee the contracts of Bamba ($10.3 million) and Vanderbilt ($4.6 million). An area to watch out for is the length of contracts the front office is willing to make this offseason. James and Davis can become free agents in 2024 and the Lakers have no salary on their books in 2025-26. The Lakers have non-Bird rights to Walker and could sign him to a contract worth up to $7.8 million. The Lakers would still have access to the $12.2 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception, but using more than $5 million would put them on the line, making it harder for them. They could choose not to sign Russell and instead use the non-taxable interim exception for one or two players.
Front office priority
Reeves and Hachimura priorities. In the final 11 games of the regular season, Reaves averaged 19.8 points and 6.1 assists on 58/46/90 shooting splits. When he shared the floor with James and Davis during the regular season, the Lakers outscored their opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. Reaves averaged 16.9 points and shot 44.2% on 3-pointers in the postseason. He finished third on the team in scoring in the postseason, behind James and Davis. Reaves is a restricted free agent, and since he signed a two-year contract, the Lakers can sign him to a maximum four-year, $53 million contract. Due to the Arenas arrangement, the Lakers can match any offer sheet, even if a team backloads the deal with cap space. The minimum length of an early-bird contract is two years, excluding an option for the last year.
The Lakers are expected to extend Hachimura a $7.7 million qualifying offer by June 29. In the playoffs, Hachimura shot 58.8% from the field, 52.8% on 3-pointers and was second in points off the bench (behind only Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brockton).
Making the roster in free agency isn’t the only decision the Lakers have this offseason. Davis, Aug. 4 Eligible to sign a three-year, maximum $167.5 million contract extension. Davis averaged 25 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 55% shooting from the field from February 11 through the end of the regular season. Davis has an early termination option in 2023-24 and can be an unrestricted free agent next season. Russell is eligible to sign a two-year, $67.6 million extension before June 30. Considering their short- and long-term financial outlook, a $30 million per year price tag is a nonstarter for the Lakers. In the first three losses to Denver, Russell averaged just 7 points while shooting 29.% from the field and 14.3% on 3-pointers.
Other extension candidates: Malik Beasley (until 6/30 if team option is declined) and Jarrett Vanderbilt
Team Requirements: Depth and shooting.
Draft picks in June: No. 17, 47
Future Draft Assets: Although New Orleans has an unprotected first-round pick in 2024, the Lakers are allowed to trade a 2023 first-round pick starting on draft night. The Pelicans have the right to extend the 2024 rounder to 2025. The Lakers will send a top-four safety to Utah in 2027. The only future they can trade is 2029. Los Angeles has three second-round picks.
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