The Los Angeles Lakers are keeping their options open when it comes to their potential max contract slot in NBA free agency. And while the focus appears to be on Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, they’ve also been linked to a number of other players, including guard D’Angelo Russell. While Russell was drafted by the Lakers originally and then traded to the Brooklyn Nets, the interest in a potential reunion is mutual.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Saturday that the Lakers reached out to Russell’s agents in an attempt to set up a meeting. After clearing the way to offer a max contract to a free agent, there was some belief that Russell could be up there as a top option just behind Leonard.
While there’s unquestionably at least a chance the Nets guard is the team’s No. 2 option, they apparently do not plan on offering him a max deal. This was first reported by Tania Ganguli and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
The Lakers aren’t likely to offer Russell a maximum contract, which would be $27.285 million per year.
This is somewhat surprising to hear, although it could point to the Lakers attempting to save a bit of cap space to spend across other areas on their roster. If they were to offer Russell a max deal worth north of $27 million annually, it would leave them incredibly tight on cap space while building around LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and Russell.
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Will Jimmy Butler Impact D’Angelo Russell’s Return to Lakers?
Assuming the Lakers do opt against offering Russell a max contract, the question becomes whether he’d still have interest in teaming up with LeBron and Davis while taking less money. This is an interesting conversation, especially considering that Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher reported just days ago that Jimmy Butler would be open to taking less than the max to sign with the Lakers.
But Butler, the Western Conference executive said, has interest in being the third star with the Los Angeles Lakers, even if it means accepting slightly less than a maximum salary. This is a shift by Butler and could reflect the value of the Lakers in his eyes now that they are about to pair Anthony Davis with LeBron James.
Butler’s interest around the league has remained high in the build-up to free agency, and while the Lakers appear to have him on their radar, there’s been more chatter about both Leonard and Russell. Regardless, if the Lakers had the option to sign Russell or Butler, and the latter was willing to take less money, it could be tough for the team’s front office to look past that.
Time will tell, but there should be some clarity on Sunday evening once free agency gets underway at 6 p.m. ET.