Home Sports Lakers ditch the usual star-chasing for sensible free-agent decisions to augment their core

Lakers ditch the usual star-chasing for sensible free-agent decisions to augment their core

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Less than 24 hours into NBA free agency, the Lakers have solidified themselves as one of the big winners of the early offseason by executing on their default plan of recapturing last season’s main force with minor upgrades. .

Los Angeles secured continuity for next season, completing its roster on Day 2 of free agency, with Austin Reeves (fourth year, about $56 million with a fourth-year player option) and D’Angelo Russell I agreed to keep the starting backcourt. (2nd year, $37 million with 2nd year player option) Add a Jackson Hayes backup center for a minimum of 2 years as a veteran, with a 2nd year player option. These moves come a day after the Lakers agreed to sign Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince and Kam Reddish while retaining Rui Hachimura.

Reeves, Russell and Hachimura were the organization’s top three retention priorities. Given how the free agency market has played out, Los Angeles ultimately sits firmly in the driver’s seat of each free agent, and that’s reflected in the value of each contract they’ve agreed to.

The biggest move so far has been Reeves’ retention, which brings the roster to 13. The Lakers have managed to frighten other teams in the restricted free-agent market, notably the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. No team with cap space was willing to offer Reeves a maximum four-year deal worth about $102 million if the Lakers would meet anyway.

Instead, the Lakers will pay Reeves almost half that amount over four years. The first two seasons of Reeves’ deal would have been paid at the same amount regardless of what contract he signed, but if the Lakers had to match the biggest offers from other teams, the final two seasons would have been would have been backloaded. The Lakers built their rosters in 2025-26 and 2026-27. The tradeoff is that Reeves will get a player option in his fourth year and become a free agent in 2026, when he turns 28.

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If Reeves were an unrestricted free agent, he probably agreed to a deal worth well over $100 million this offseason. The 6-foot-5 guard had just turned 25 and was the third-best player on a team that reached the Western Conference Finals. Reeves averaged 18.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists in the last 10 games of the regular season as a full-time starter, shooting 57.1 percent from the field, shooting 48.6 percent from three and shooting 89.8 percent. Percent recorded. throw a line.

Reeves continued his stellar performance in the playoffs, averaging 16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 46.4 percent shooting from the field and 44.3 percent shooting three goals as a starter in 16 games for the Lakers. Nikola Jokic, Devin Booker and Kawhi Leonard were the only players to achieve those stats last postseason (although Leonard only appeared in two postseason games). Team USA recognized Reeves as a rising young player and invited him to join the FIBA ​​World Cup squad this summer.

The Lakers plan next season to unleash the point guard skills Reeves has honed in his first two years in the league and execute more offense, according to team officials who weren’t allowed to speak publicly.

D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reeves are both returning to the Lakers. (Photo: Jane Kamin Onsia/USA Today)

The Lakers also helped the team reach the Western Conference finals, where they struggled once before acquiring prospective starting point guard Russell at a fair price. The 27-year-old, a one-time All-Star, was one of the top unrestricted free agent guards in free agency due to his excellent 3-point shooting combination (he joined the Lakers in February). 41.1 percent in the regular season since then). and playmaking (6.1 assists per game in the regular season in Los Angeles).

He was a better player and fitter than Russell Westbrook, who effectively replaced him. But Russell’s market was cold. His postseason struggles and defensive limitations make it difficult to fit him as a top option on a title-chasing team. In the 2023 playoffs, Russell’s numbers dropped dramatically in points (17.4 vs. 13.3), assists (6.1 vs. 4.6), field goal percentage and 3-point percentage (41.4 vs. 31.0). He struggled particularly against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, averaging 6.8 points and shooting 32.2 percent, but was out of the starting lineup by Game 4. Teams evaluate a player’s performance the higher they advance in the playoffs. It worked against free agent Russell more than anything else.

With other teams filling point guard vacancies, including former heat guard Gabe Vincent on the Lakers and Russell’s former teammate Dennis Schroeder on the Raptors, a short-term return to Los Angeles is the only option. became a logical choice. This is a temporary marriage of convenience for both parties. The Lakers were able to move Russell during the 2023-24 season, giving him the right to opt out and sign elsewhere next summer. (One caveat: Russell has the right to veto any trade, but as Nate Duncan on the NBA podcast “Dunked on Basketball” pointed out on twitterThe new CBA will allow teams and players to negotiate their ability to waive that right as part of contract negotiations. It remains unclear whether the Lakers and Russell did so with this deal. )

In the second low-stakes gamble of the offseason (the other being Reddish), the Lakers signed 23-year-old former New Orleans Pelicans player Hayes. Hayes (8th pick in 2019), Hachimura (9th pick), and Reddish (10th pick) are on the roster, and the Lakers have taken all of the middle picks in the 2019 NBA Draft lottery. there is

At 6’11”, Hayes is a high flyer who excels as a rim runner, lob finisher and shot blocker. He’s shot 75.2 percent from within three feet of the rim throughout his career, an elite stat. His concentration and awareness are questionable. He was developing as a shooter, shooting 3-pointers in his previous two seasons. Defensively, he’s a game-changing player, but he’s prone to foul trouble. Whether he’s better as a power forward or as a center remains to be seen. In fact, his best basketball came in the 2021-22 season when he played as a power forward next to Jonas Valanciunas.

If the Lakers plan to use Hayes as their main backup center and spot starter should Anthony Davis get injured, they’re taking a moderate risk. Hayes finished the season with the fewest minutes played (13.0 games per game) and games played (47 games) of his four-year career after being replaced by Larry Nance Jr. in the Pelicans rotation. Last year, Hayes pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to 450 hours of community service, 52 weeks of domestic violence classes, and three years of probation. following the incident July 2021 with his girlfriend in Woodland Hills, CA.

Below is a graph of the Lakers’ layer thickness by a total of 13 players.

lakers current depth chart





D’Angelo Russell

Gabe Vincent

Jalen Hood – Sifino


Austin Reeves

Max Christie

Maxwell Lewis

science fiction

lebron james

taurus prince

cam reddish


Rui Hachimura

Jared Vanderbilt


Anthony Davis

Jackson Hayes

The expected line-up is fluid. Russell is the frontrunner to start at point guard, but if Russell outperforms Russell in training camp, team officials said he could get the spot. The Athletic. The Lakers, who invested heavily in Hachimura this summer, hope he will pick up where he left off in the postseason and remain a starter despite being a bench player during the regular season. . The Lakers also have a lot of positional flexibility, with Jared Vanderbilt, Prince, Max Christie and Reddish each playing at least two positions. You might even get to see Hayes and Davis playing together from time to time.

Depending on the exact first year salaries of the new contracts, the Lakers’ salaries for the 13 players would be around $165 million in guaranteed salaries. That means they’re about $7 million below the $172 million first apron hardcap line, leaving two open spots on the roster. The Lakers may still offer Malik Beasley or Lonnie Walker IV a deal above minimum, but Reeves, Russell, Vincent, Prince and Christie have already clocked minutes in three perimeter spots. So it’s unclear where that would fit in the rotation (not to mention a basically positionless James, or rookies Jalen Hood-Sciffino and Maxwell Lewis).

Team sources say LA are eyeing another 14th-ranked big man on the roster. They will likely sign 14 endorsement deals by the season, with one spot left on the roster. Mo Bamba, who the Lakers waived Thursday, and Tristan Thompson, who joined the team just before the playoffs, remain options to fill the No. 14 spot, league sources say. The big man market has dried up so far during this free agency period, so the Lakers could wait and see if better options emerge.

In the closest he’s made to his first public comment since the Lakers hinted at retiring in Game 4 loss to Denver, James confirmed every single Lakers deal on his Instagram story. The Lakers continue to operate as if he’ll be back next season.

Assuming the Lakers sign another credible big player, their offseason will end with a bang. There was a cool consistency to their decision-making process that contrasted with some of the flashy mistakes they made in the past offseason in pursuit of stars and pedigree elite role players.

They didn’t sacrifice their supporting cast to go after Kyrie Irving or Fred VanVleet like they did when they traded for Westbrook in 2021. Instead, they kept two of the most promising young performers in the playoffs (Reeves and Hachimura) and replaced two sharpshooters with above-average defense (Vincent and Prince) with those types of role players. Hayes and Reddish, who were ranked in the top 10 for length and athleticism with two low-risk swings. The decision to keep Russell on a short-term deal was a tougher decision given his playoff potential and legitimate questions about his role on a competing team, but he’s been a solid regular-season contributor at least. , and should be valuable around the trade deadline. Pseudo expired contract.

Among the contenders, the Lakers are one of the few teams to make a meaningful addition to their roster so far since the inception of free agency. (Of course, that could change soon, depending on where Damian Lillard and James Harden land.) The Phoenix Suns add Bradley Beal to form one of the league’s best trios, and the Fringe They’ve managed to get a lot of players, but they could miss Chris Paul. The Golden State Warriors need to work Paul into their style of play. The Denver Nuggets continue to be the clear favorites in the West and in the NBA, but the loss of Bruce Brown has taken a toll. The LA Clippers could emerge as the next superteam if they can pull off a big Harden trade, but that hasn’t happened yet. The Boston Celtics are, in theory, the most talented team in the league, but the loss of Marcus Smart is imminent. The Milwaukee Bucks have retained Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez and expanded their core championship roster, but have yet to add any notable players. Fresh out of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat are the dominant contenders for Lillard, but have lost key players in Vincent and Max Strass.

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The Lakers have elevated themselves within the team, if only slightly. They made the most of available resources and maintained core elements of a conference finalist who went 19-8 in their last 27 regular-season games, including a play-in victory over Minnesota. The group should be even better with a summer when head coach Durbin Hamm and his staff prepare for a new group and a full-fledged training camp.

With several paths ahead, the Lakers chose the wisest. It’s about keeping top free agency and making smart upgrades that give him a chance at No. 18 next season.

(Top photo: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

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