Lakers strengthen their core by re-signing Reaves and Russell

Keep the core and improve the edges. That was the plan one general manager Rob Pelinka stated publicly and the one the team planned privately.

Two years after changing their roster in a trade for Russell Westbrook, the Lakers returned to the championship game last season, balanced their roster and their ledger and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Still, they weren’t good enough, sent home after four close games with the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

But in less than 24 hours of freedom, the Lakers managed to accomplish their primary goal, filling out the majority of their roster in a sprint while leaving them poised to build on what they hastily built last spring.

What began Friday afternoon with the Lakers luring starting guard Gabe Vincent from Miami ended at lunchtime Saturday when Austin Reaves committed to the Lakers and the organization agreed to deals with Taurean Prince, Rui Hachimura, Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes and D’Angelo Russell in between.

The team will look to add a player on a veteran’s minimum contract, people with knowledge of the plan, who were not authorized to speak publicly, told The Los Angeles Times. The Lakers’ current plan is to keep their final roster spot open for flexibility.

After the team added four players on Friday, the Lakers agreed to terms with three players on Saturday, with headliners Reaves and Russell the team’s starting backcourt spot down the stretch last season.

Reaves and his representatives met with the Lakers in the first moments of free agency on Friday, when the team offered him a four-year deal worth $56 million — the maximum they were allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. Reaves, a restricted free agent, saw his market elsewhere begin to narrow, starting with the Houston Rockets landing Fred VanVleet. While San Antonio had long been rumored to be interested in signing Reaves, the undrafted guard ultimately decided to stay with the Lakers rather than wait to receive a potentially more lucrative offer sheet from the Spurs.

People with knowledge of the situation insisted the Lakers would have matched any offer Reaves received — even a max offer of more than $100 million — but they were never put to the test. Instead, Reaves agreed to a four-year deal with the Lakers that has a player option for the final season.

Before resuming with Reaves, they agreed to a deal with Russell for two years and $36 million, sources told The Times. The agreement also includes a player option in the second year.

The Lakers acquired Russell at the NBA trade deadline this spring in a deal that included Westbrook, a trade that helped turn the team’s season around.

Russell averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game. He had strong moments in the Lakers’ postseason wins against Memphis and Golden State before struggling against the Nuggets. The Lakers moved him to the bench in Game 4.

He agreed Saturday to stay with the Lakers, another chapter in Russell’s history with the organization after the team took him second overall in the 2015 NBA draft.

The day began with the Lakers adding Hayes, the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NBA draft. After four uneven seasons in New Orleans, he lands with the Lakers. Evaluators familiar with Hayes and his role with the Pelicans praised the pickup, citing his superb athleticism at nearly 7 feet tall. He should give the Lakers, LeBron James and their returning guards a threat above the rim in pick-and-roll sets.

Center Jaxson Hayes, who rose for a dunk over Mavericks center JaVale McGee, spent four seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans before entering free agency.

(Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press)

He signed a two-year deal for the minimum with a player option in the second year, sources said.

Hayes pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanor charges stemming from a domestic dispute in Woodland Hills in 2021 that included him being tased while another officer knelt on his neck during attempts to detain him. The Los Angeles Police Department later ruled that the knee-on-the-neck maneuver was against policy.

Hayes was sentenced to three years of probation, 450 hours of community service and one year of weekly domestic violence classes.

On Friday, the Lakers agreed to sign the two players selected directly behind him in the 2019 draft – Reddish and Hachimura.

After the team finalized its deal with Reaves on Saturday, James, who has mostly been quiet this offseason on social media about Lakers-related news, posted photos of Reaves, Hachimura, Russell, Vincent, Prince, Hayes, Reddish and Jarred Vanderbilt to his Instagram account. Considering this is the same place he routinely touts his tequila brand, Lobos, it’s safe to assume this was an endorsement.

The Lakers never wasted time chasing the biggest names this season, and their path was written for them as “proof of concept” as they reached the Western Conference finals despite being a team of relative basketball strangers.

The Lakers ensured Reaves, Russell and Hachimura would all be back on Saturday. They complemented them with a mix of experience and potential. And the momentum they built in the back half of last season, well, it kept rolling to start July.

Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

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