Free agency for general manager Rob Pelinka and the Lakers began in the final days of January as the team languished in the bottom half of the NBA’s Western Conference. The Lakers were spinning their wheels, clawing their way toward .500 but never getting there when they decided to make a move.
For months, the team had been trying to find its way under new coach Darvin Ham, making the most of an awkward situation with Russell Westbrook on the bench and the fallout from a foot injury that still threatened to knock Anthony Davis out of the lineup.
Would they buy? Would they sell? Didn’t they want to do something? They found themselves at a crossroads with the Feb. 7 trade deadline looming.
The next step they took turned out to be one of their most important. On January 23, the Lakers acquired Rui Hachimura from Washington for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round draft picks.
Five months later, that deal paid off for both parties, and the Lakers signed Hachimura to a three-year deal, ensuring that part of their “young core” would spend the next part of his prime in Los Angeles. And for Hachimura? That meant a guaranteed $51 million — the price tag he earned for his postseason play as he helped the Lakers reach the Western Conference finals.
The move was part of a busy first handful of hours for the Lakers in free agency, the team also added NBA Finals starters Gabe Vincentveteran Prince of the Bull and previous lottery picks Cam Reddish.
The team, which created room to use a mid-level exception Thursday by waiving Mo Bamba and Shaq Harrison and by declining the team option on Malik Beasley’s contract, used most of it to agree to sign Vincent away from the Miami Heat with a three-year, $33 million contract.
The Lakers also used what projects as their biannual exception to get Prince to agree to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. The Lakers also got Reddish, a player they’ve long been tied to in trade talks, to agree to a two-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum.
The Lakers, according to people with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly, still intend to re-sign guards Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell, which would leave room for just two or three players on the veteran’s minimum contracts. The Lakers offered both players contracts Thursday, with Reaves receiving a four-year, $52 million max offer. He can make almost twice as much from another team, even if the Lakers can match.
Hachimura, 25, returns after surging late in the season and into the playoffs with the Lakers. After a match where he fell completely out of Ham’s rotation, Hachimura returned with more aggression and eventually more confidence as he became a trusted member of the rotation.
In the final seven games of the regular season, Hachimura averaged 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in 21.6 minutes off the bench.
He was a plus-20 in the Lakers’ play-in win against Minnesota, and he made five three-pointers in Game 1 of the first-round series in Memphis to push the Lakers ahead of the Grizzlies. He finished his postseason shooting 55.7% from the field and 48.7% from three, playing some of his best basketball while showing he could compete defensively with efforts at their highest.
Likewise, the 27-year-old Vincent, who was born in Modesto and attended UC Santa Barbara, played his best basketball last season when it mattered most. After moving into the starting lineup on February 4th, Vincent shot 34.4% from three while averaging 9.6 points. In the playoffs, those numbers increased to 37.8% from three and 12.7 points per. match. In Miami’s lone victory in the Finals, he scored 23 points on eight-of-12 shooting.
Prince, who became available Thursday when Minnesota did not guarantee the $7.5 million he was due this coming season, played in Atlanta when he was a rookie and Ham was a Hawks assistant.
The 6-foot-7, 29-year-old forward shot 38.1% from three last season, playing mostly off the bench for the Timberwolves. Like Hachimura and Vincent, he also shot well in the playoffs, making 38.1% of his threes against the Nuggets in the first round.
Reddish was the biggest flier, the 10th overall pick in the 2019 draft. The Lakers will be his fourth team in five seasons, and while he’s averaged 10.3 points, he’s shooting 39.9% from the field and 32.2% from three for his career. The Lakers see untapped potential as a possible two-way weapon with an ideal 6-8 frame.
While the Lakers and Pelinka often talked about continuity in the build-up to this offseason, the team lost more players Friday than it kept. Guard Dennis Schroder agreed to a deal with the Toronto Raptors after Fred VanVleet landed in Houston, while wing Troy Brown Jr., one of the Lakers’ offers last summer, agreed to sign with Minnesota — in part — to replace Prince.
Among the priorities for the Lakers, in addition to re-signing Reaves and Russell, will add a back-up big man.