The Lakers are making all the right moves through the first 24 hours

This isn’t an immediate “winners and losers” of the NBA’s free agency column, but after the first 24 hours of free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers emerged through a second consecutive trade window with significant improvements to their roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Going back to February’s trade deadline, Rob Pelinka’s front office has targeted cheap, productive players based on system customization who are capable of impacting games with versatility. The Lakers aren’t exactly aiming for the splashy headlines attached to past approaches.

The three second-round picks Los Angeles sent to Washington for Rui Hachimura brought strong postseason performances from the Gonzaga product and helped the Lakers reach the Western Conference finals. Hachimura returned to the team on a three-year, $51 million deal Friday, league sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports. In extension talks with the Wizards last offseason, Hachimura sought $15 million in average annual value, sources said. The Lakers must have known that dollar figure before acquiring him in January, and it’s no surprise that his salary has stretched beyond the original range following Hachimura’s postseason run.

The three-team trade that sent Russell Westbrook to Utah and netted D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt turned the Lakers’ most botched acquisition — and most plagued failure — to a salutary conclusion. Vanderbilt is on the books for just $4.6 million this season, one of the best deals in the NBA despite the Kentucky product’s lack of true scoring threat. While the Lakers declined Beasley’s $16.5 million player option for 2023-24, Pelinka is keeping the trigger, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and there were discussions Friday night that Beasley would potentially return to the Lakers. Russell’s return to Los Angeles was cemented Saturday when the Lakers and the 27-year-old guard reportedly agreed to terms on a two-year, $37 million contract.

Austin Reaves, the biggest piece of the Lakers’ offseason puzzle, reportedly agreed to a four-year, $56 million max contract on Saturday — a massive win for the undrafted guard from Arkansas. If Reaves had been an unrestricted free agent, he likely could have attracted the attention of several suitors with cap space. But after Friday’s deals, only the Spurs had room to give Reaves the four-year, $100 million maximum offer sheet he can only get from a rival team. There was no indication that the Spurs did.

Adding Taurean Prince on the one-year, $4.5 million semi-annual exception also appears to be a strong value play. Prince was set to make over $7 million with Minnesota this season before the Timberwolves waived him and his non-guaranteed salary as part of cost-cutting moves to open the team’s non-taxpayer mid-level exemption. Prince is a career 37.2% 3-point shooter — a tick better than Max Strus, a mid-tier darling of this free agent cycle who received just under $16 million in annual salary in a sign-and-trade deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Prince’s two-way ability should bring another reliable wing option that the Lakers lacked against the Nuggets’ high-octane offense. Cam Reddish had long been linked to Los Angeles. After agreeing to terms with the Lakers on the veteran minimum, Reddish will have his best opportunity yet to contribute in a contending environment.

The most interesting result of the Lakers’ spending is the addition of former Miami Heat point guard Gabe Vincent. The UC Santa Barbara product is returning to California on a three-year, $33 million contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports, with the entire deal guaranteed. Vincent emerged in Miami after going undrafted in 2018 and really took a step forward in the Heat’s starting lineup during postseason play. When free agency began with Fred VanVleet, known to be Houston’s top target with the Rockets’ $60 million-plus in salary cap space, the Raptors appeared to be a strong option for Vincent. Word of Vincent emerging as Toronto’s best option to replace VanVleet appeared to be spreading around rival front offices. But then the bell rang and the players flew off the board. Bruce Brown, the Lakers’ top mid-level target, quickly signed with the Pacers for two years and $45 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Eric Gordon was another name on the Lakers’ radar, but Los Angeles opted to move forward with Vincent, and the Raptors never contacted his agency Friday with an offer, sources said.

Miami also did not offer Vincent a salary equal to the Lakers’ deal. According to league staff, the Heat would not go over $8 million in annual value. Miami appears to be operating on a tight budget. In facilitating a sign-and-trade for Strus with the Cavaliers, the Heat did not want to take back significant salary, necessitating the inclusion of a third team—the San Antonio Spurs—to match salary. And ever since Victor Oladipo exercised his $9.5 million player option for this season, the Heat looked for deals to relieve his salary, sources said, and ended up sending Oladipo into Oklahoma City’s cap space. The Lakers, meanwhile, awaited Vincent with a hefty payday.

Bringing in Vincent took Dennis Schröder off the table for the Lakers after there was plenty of talk that Los Angeles would try to keep Schröder with part of its mid-level exception that ended up going largely to Vincent. However, it apparently turned into good news for the German point guard, who went on to join Toronto in VanVleet’s place for two years and $26 million, according to sources.

Without VanVleet, the Raptors are on precarious footing in the Eastern Conference. Re-signing Jakob Poeltl to a four-year, $80 million deal with a player option, league sources told Yahoo Sports, always seemed the likely outcome after Toronto sent a first-round pick to the Spurs for the veteran center before the trade deadline. Schröder was a valuable cog in the Lakers’ playoff sprint, but this will mark the second time Toronto has lost a franchise favorite at point guard on the open market after turning down significant offers for those players at the previous trade deadline.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) reacts after making a 3-pointer against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Final series, Saturday, May 20, 2023, in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Dennis Schröder is moving on to the Toronto Raptors. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

After Toronto rejected offers for Kyle Lowry in 2021, the Raptors saw the All-Star, who helped claim the only championship in franchise history, go to Miami in a sign-and-trade that netted only Goran Dragić and Precious Achiuwa in return . At the next deadline, after Dragić had played just five games for Toronto, the Raptors had to use a 2022 first-round pick to turn Dragić into Thaddeus Young — choosing that path forward to acquire Kristaps Porziņģis from Dallas. Flash forward to this season, and the Phoenix Suns were definitely interested in acquiring VanVleet at the deadline, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Clippers also registered strong interest in VanVleet, sources said, and were willing to include many of the pieces that Los Angeles may end up sending to Philadelphia to acquire James Harden this summer instead. Toronto now has to endure VanVleet going to Houston for nothing in return.

Perhaps VanVleet’s exit will help create more on-ball opportunities for OG Anunoby, who switched agencies from Klutch Sports to CAA amid ongoing questions about his role in Toronto. Anunoby told representatives during meetings with potential agents, according to people with knowledge of the situation, that he was looking for bigger ball-handling and playmaking duties ahead of his upcoming contract negotiations. Without that chance in the Raptors’ offense under new head coach Darko Rajaković, the possibility remains that Anunoby could request a trade from the franchise in what is now the third season of a four-year, $72 million contract — which Anunoby relayed to potential agents he believed was below his market value, but includes a player option before the 2024-25 season.

Even then, there remains a roadblock for Toronto communicating what rival front offices have consistently deemed unrealistic valuations for its players — such as Anunoby, All-Star forward Pascal Siakam and VanVleet himself — that would make any potential trade exit seem more taxing than fulfilling eye. These negotiations are never without moving targets of leverage, but teams and players can often confuse time and the looming threats of the next transaction cycle as a factor in their favor. On other occasions, a team or player may simply have been burned by that ill-fated summer to hit the open market as a free agent or a team with money to spend.

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