The Los Angeles Lakers have been on quite a journey over the past three years, winning the 2020 title, stumbling through injuries and ill-advised trades to miss the playoffs, only to right the ship for a run to the Western Conference Finals .
The team can build on its success or backslide with the wrong moves. The goal seems to be focusing on winning a title while staying younger with new players like Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. Of course, none of them are under contract per July 1st.
Add that LeBron James suggested retirement was a possibility; LA needs to understand that its franchise player may not be around much longer. The window with James may not be closed, but it won’t stay open forever.
What are the main questions facing the Lakers this offseason?
Is LeBron actually retiring?
Despite his semi-cryptic comments at the end of the season, there is no sense that James will give up his projected salary of $46.9 million for 2023-2024. According to several sources, the Lakers are operating under the expectation that James will lead the team in the upcoming season.
If James surprises the world in some bizarre multiversal circumstance, disregard everything that follows.
Will he opt out of his senior year and join his son, Bronny James, who will likely join the NBA in 2024? That remains a distinct possibility unless the Lakers can find a way to sign the younger James.
Will the Lakers lose Reaves and Rui?
Los Angeles has the benefit of limited free agency. The team controls the fate of both Reaves and Rui. Should a team send out an offer sheet, the Lakers will have approximately 24 hours to match.
“Somebody’s going to make Austin a big offer, even if it’s just to put a big number on the Lakers,” one rival executive said.
The most LA can offer Reaves outright is just over $50 million (TBD as of June 30). But Reaves is subject to the Arenas rule, detailed in March on B/R, which can raise that number significantly. The NBA and NBPA have agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that has changed some of the projected numbers — leading some around the league to wonder if a quirk in the rules could allow another team to make an offer that’s bigger than what the Lakers can match. .
But league sources have clarified to B/R that the spirit of the rule will remain intact in July. It will be the Lakers’ decision even if another team makes Reaves a $100 million offer over four seasons.
Hachimura is a straightforward restricted free agent eligible for up to a starting max. of approx. $33.5 million. His market value, as projected by several competing executives, is in the starting range of $12-18 million.
Most teams won’t have more than $12.2 million in mid-level non-taxpayers to chase Reaves and Hachimura. But at least seven should have significant purchasing power, as described in B/R’s Complete 2023 Offseason Guides for every NBA team, including the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz. Several others could end up with cap room, like the Sacramento Kings, but that will depend on which of their own free agents they retain.
The buzz among league sources is LA plans to keep both players, though as mentioned, offers could come to force the Lakers to match a higher price.
What will the Lakers do at Point Guard?
Both D’Angelo Russell and Dennis Schroeder will be unrestricted free agents in July. The arrival of Russell, among the team’s other acquisitions before the trade deadline, sparked the Lakers’ run to four wins short of the NBA Finals.
Russell was not exceptional against the Denver Nuggets, who were eventually benched for Schroder late in the series. While he wasn’t necessarily consistent throughout the postseason, he shined in crucial moments that helped the Lakers get as far as they did.
Schroeder is a favorite of head coach Darvin Ham, and while he is not as dynamic a playmaker or shooter as Russell, he is a tougher defender.
Add in Chris Paul heading to the Washington Wizards soon for Bradley Beal, which could lead to the Lakers pivoting to the veteran (or adding him while keeping Russell and Schroder).
Paul’s situation remains unclear, but his family remained in Los Angeles following his 2017 trade from the Clippers to the Houston Rockets (which eventually led to the Suns). The Wizards may consider trading Paul again (or expand the deal into a multi-team trade), which could take Paul out of the Lakers’ price range—the team won’t try to package expiring contracts for Paul during his time. $30 million full price. Instead, the Clippers are a potential suitor to reunite with the veteran point guard.
If Paul ultimately ended up with the Lakers, Ham tends to favor three-guard lineups, and the 6’4” Russell can play at the 2 with Reaves at small forward and both Schroder and Hachmiura off the bench.
That combination had playoff success (with Schroder) against the Golden State Warriors, but proved undersized against the Nuggets.
How much should the Lakers spend?
In terms of money, the Lakers figure to be over the $134 million salary cap with a commitment to Hachimura, but could reach about $27.6 million in cap space with all potential free agents except for Jarred Vanderbilt and Reaves (31, $2 million if Vanderbilt was also cut). The cap room path would also give LA a $7.6 million mid-level exception.
But all signs suggest the team will stick with its depth. Russell’s starting salary is harder to project. If he was probably in the $25 million range earlier in the postseason, his Western Conference Finals performance could have brought it down (along with a tight free-agent market for the veteran) to or even below $20 million.
If the Lakers could manage to keep Reaves, Hachimura and Russell at a total of $47 million, the team could access $12.2 million in mid-level non-taxpayers. But that would trigger the league’s first hard cap at an expected $169 million, which could hamper flexibility.
These numbers assume LA does not retain Malik Beasley ($16.5 million team option) or Mo Bamba ($10.3 million non-guaranteed). If the Lakers waive the larger exception, the next hard cap would start at $179.5 million second place, but only if the team spends $5 million in mid-level taxpayer dollars (which might be necessary for Schroeder or Paul).
The new rules are a lot to keep track of, but the Lakers can keep almost the entire roster together, including potential free agents Lonnie Walker IV, Bamba, Reaves, Hachmiura, Russell, Schroder and Vanderbilt, while staying under the second apron. Also pencil in a more significant role for sophomore wing Max Christie.
That likely means Beasley isn’t retained. Bamba and Russell are a little harder to predict.
Bamba’s salary guarantees in full on June 29, although that could be pushed back if both sides agreed to do so. The Lakers also have to deal with Shaquille Harrison’s non-guaranteed $2.4 million, though it may be more likely that he’s waived and possibly re-signed at the one-year minimum.
Will the Lakers pick No. 17 and 47?
The Lakers have brought in several prospects throughout the pre-draft process. Look for the team to take the best player available – but if some of its favored prospects aren’t available, the team may consider trading back.
Keep an eye on teams like the Brooklyn Nets (Nos. 21 and 22), the Indiana Pacers (Nos. 26, 29 and 32) and the Charlotte Hornets (Nos. 27, 34 and 39). But the most likely path is for LA to pick No. 17.
B/R NBA Draft Guru Jonathan Wasserman has the team mocked to take wings Jordan Hawkins (Connecticut) and Terquavion Smith (North Carolina State).
Should a trade occur, the Lakers could select Beasley or guarantee (some or all) Bamba, Vanderbilt and Harrison’s salaries (although Harrison cannot be dealt until July 9). The Nets have a couple of viable targets in Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale.
Just keep in mind that the new rules penalize teams with higher salaries. The Lakers don’t have to treat the second apron like a hard cap this season, but should look forward to future years where the penalties will be much more severe.
This is where it will be helpful to understand how many years James intends to stay with the franchise, along with a potential Anthony Davis extension (eligible in early August to add up to three additional years through 2027 -28).