Take a deep breath, Lakers followers. I do know all of this feels acquainted. An undrafted guard has emerged as a key rotation participant. He is flourishing because the Lakers take care of main accidents elsewhere on the roster. His presence is holding a probably doomed season afloat. He’s setting himself up for a significant payday within the course of. The Lakers misplaced Alex Caruso when this occurred two years in the past. Here’s the excellent news: the Lakers can legally match any provide one other workforce makes Austin Reaves as a restricted free agent this offseason. If they need to hold him, it will likely be properly inside their energy to take action.
Until just a few weeks in the past, doing so appeared like it could be a comparatively reasonably priced endeavor. While the Lakers might’ve locked Reaves up for 2 extra years at near a minimal wage had they managed their cap sheet a bit extra successfully in 2021, the benefit of letting him attain restricted free company in 2023 was that it successfully capped what the Lakers might provide him on the most quantity allowable by the Early Bird Rights they’ve gained by having him on the workforce for 2 years. As Spotrac’s Keith Smith specified by his wonderful piece on Reaves’ new contract, that labored out to roughly $51 million over 4 years. He would make roughly $14.1 million within the remaining 12 months of such a contract, a determine that is in all probability decrease than what he’s price now.
In different phrases, this may’ve been a discount: a four-year dedication to a longtime 24-year-old with no important historical past of accidents in a wage setting anticipated to see important cap development. No workforce is silly sufficient to show down that form of alternative. Not even the one which misplaced Caruso.
Of course, that relied on the concept that, from a worth standpoint, Reaves was comparatively just like Caruso. They are very completely different gamers, however they represented related issues to the Lakers. For essentially the most half, neither had been significantly spectacular field rating gamers. Their affect was felt in superior metrics and on-off numbers. Good issues occurred when Caruso and Reaves had been on the ground. The development felt considerably related: undrafted teenager grows into strong function participant and earns strong function participant cash.
The previous couple of weeks have created an enviable drawback for the Lakers. Reaves is changing into one thing greater than only a strong function participant. While it’s miles too early begin speculating about stardom, Reaves is quietly rising into some of the environment friendly offensive guards within the NBA.
He may need simply saved the Lakers’ season final Sunday when his 35 factors held off an Orlando Magic comeback and preserved a desperately wanted victory. He’s averaging 15.7 factors per sport for the reason that Lakers traded Russell Westbrook on a preposterous 56-42-83. Through March 19, he had tried 77 complete free throws. That is greater than DeMar DeRozan (67), James Harden (58) and Trae Young (53).
And these aren’t function participant passes. These are high-end place to begin guard passes… they usually all come from a single half of a single sport.
It’s too early to say the place that is going, nevertheless it hardly issues as a result of Reaves scales up or down so seamlessly. He’s spent the primary two years of his profession enjoying with Westbrook and LeBron James. He’s completely comfy functioning in a catch-and-shoot capability when crucial. But stick him Dennis Schroder and D’Angelo Russell as a substitute and he turns into this higher-usage free-throw service provider and flooring normal. Virtually each metric praises his protection, and the attention take a look at helps him there. Reaves was way more superior than most rookies when it comes to footwork and floor-navigation a 12 months in the past, however lacked the bodily power to carry his personal within the submit or struggle by way of screens. He’s bulked up this season, and at 24, he nonetheless has room for each literal and figurative development. Every workforce within the NBA needs an Austin Reaves.
And that is the place issues get sophisticated for the Lakers, as a result of whereas they will provide Reaves solely the Early Bird max, different groups don’t have any such constraint. So lengthy as they’ve the cap area to take action, they will provide Reaves an additional $48 million on high of the $51 million the Lakers are free to offer him for a complete of roughly $99 million over 4 years.
Once once more, Lakers followers, take a deep breath. This doesn’t imply the Lakers shall be unable to retain Reaves. The NBA affords a workaround, nevertheless it’s a dangerous one. In 2002, the Washington Wizards used their cap area to supply then-restricted free agent Gilbert Arenas a six-year, $60 million contract that exceeded Golden State’s Early Bird Rights. This meant that they legally couldn’t match the provide, and had been compelled to look at Arenas develop into an All-Star with the Wizards. Soon after, the NBA modified the principles to make sure that by no means occurred once more. This is the notorious Gilbert Arenas Provision.
Players restricted by the Arenas provision, like Reaves, can not make greater than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception within the first 12 months of a brand new deal once they signal a suggestion sheet with one other workforce. Their second-year wage on such a contract would see solely a 5% enhance in wage. But years three and 4? They can go all the way in which as much as the max. The signing workforce can use its cap area to construction the cap hits as the common annual wage in every of the 4 years. But the Lakers do not have cap area, and would due to this fact be caught with that backloaded construction. Here’s what a maximum-salary Arenas Provision deal would seem like to the Lakers, as projected by Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus.
You might argue that this wage construction really advantages the Lakers financially, at the very least in comparison with paying Reaves a flat $25 million per 12 months. Their roster is at present constructed to function above the cap, which is able to imply re-signing their very own gamers and paying the posh tax for the fourth consecutive season. That would topic them to the repeater tax, which is able to make limiting subsequent 12 months’s workforce wage paramount.
By backloading the deal, the Lakers would give themselves two years to kind out their funds forward of Reaves’ soar. There are two different elements price watching right here: the brand new CBA (which is being negotiated as we communicate) and the brand new media rights deal (which is predicted to kick in for the 2025-26 season). The former might change the luxury-tax guidelines in ways in which both assist or damage the Lakers. The latter might enhance the cap by a lot that an infinite wage soar for Reaves simply is not that bothersome.
But bear in mind, the Lakers usually are not the Warriors or the Clippers. Even although they outspend most of their competitors, they function inside a price range, and that is what makes this example so difficult for the Lakers: they actually cannot set a price range for the 2025-26 marketing campaign proper now as a result of they do not at present have a single participant underneath contract for that season. In truth, solely three Lakers have totally assured contracts for subsequent season: James, Anthony Davis and Max Christie.
The Lakers can have a greater concept of their outlook by this summer time, when, on the very least, they must make long-term choices on D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura. But between the summer time of 2023 and the 2024 offseason, they’re going to additionally have to make choices on Christie and whoever they maintain among the many non-guaranteed group of Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba and Jarred Vanderbilt. And, after all, James and Davis.
Are James and Davis nonetheless incomes max cash in 2026? Does Russell anticipate to stay a $30 million participant in his subsequent deal, and does he need a long-term pact or short-term flexibility? How a lot does the thought of a doable cap spike windfall issue into negotiations for gamers like Hachimura, Vanderbilt and Bamba, who’ve so far earned restricted salaries of their careers and should need to see if 2025 free company appears something like 2016 as soon as did? The Lakers nonetheless have draft picks to dangle in commerce discussions this summer time. There may be one other significant participant or two to contemplate right here. For all we all know, the Lakers shall be getting into the 2025-26 season having paid the posh tax within the earlier 5 seasons and the repeater tax within the final two of them.
A workforce with the income the Lakers have at their disposal in all probability should not fret over that… however… properly… that was true in 2021 as properly and all of us noticed how that went for Caruso. The market goes to be a bit extra restricted this time round. Any workforce hoping to throw a significant Arenas Rule provide at Reaves would want at the very least $20 million in cap area, and in keeping with Smith’s most up-to-date projections, solely eight groups match the invoice proper now: Houston, Utah, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Detroit, Indiana, Sacramento and Orlando. The Rockets, Kings, Pacers and Pistons in all probability have an excessive amount of invested in guards to justify this form of expense.
But the Magic have solely specialists of their backcourt and would completely love a participant as balanced as Reaves. The Jazz have solely two guards underneath assured contracts for subsequent season in Collin Sexton and Ochai Agbaji. The Thunder aren’t positionally choosy and can gladly take a bit extra ball-handling and defensive assist. Gregg Popovich has no love for the Lakers, and will actually use an improve on Tre Jones at level guard even when he did. More cap area groups might emerge within the coming months. There are going to be suitors right here.
Reaves could not attain his near-$100 million max, however he is enjoying himself out of the $51 million deal the Lakers certainly hoped to offer him this offseason. No matter the place the ultimate quantity falls, it is virtually actually going to pressure the Lakers right into a backloaded contract, which is able to, in flip, implement upon them an uneasy diploma of economic uncertainty. Whatever the worth winds up being, the Lakers ought to pay it. But after what occurred to Caruso, their entrance workplace has misplaced the good thing about the doubt on such issues. Fans shall be uneasy till the ink dries on his subsequent contract.
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