With the Lakers eagerly awaiting the return of LeBron James, and with Anthony Davis getting his feet back under him after two months off with a calf/Achilles injury, the focus surely is on the present for the purple-and-gold. But then, it is never too early to start thinking about the future, is it?
With that in mind comes a nugget from a rival league executive, asked this week about a player who could become a key free agent in the summer—Heat guard Victor Oladipo. While the Heat have long been connected with Oladipo, who wants to play in Miami, the relationship is off to a rocky start.
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After arriving in a trade from Houston, Oladipo made just four appearances with Miami before he was injured in a non-contact situation against the Lakers on April 8. He has not played since and while word has leaked that the Heat expect to see Oladipo in action again this season, time is running short and the organization is being opaque on what’s going on with Oladipo.
Heat’s Erik Spoelstra on Victor Oladipo knee, "still in information-gathering stage." https://t.co/uMQFKpqE41 Also: Tyler Herro misses Saturday practice with sore foot that has him questionable for Sunday in Portland.
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) April 11, 2021
This, potentially, affects the Lakers going forward. Because if Oladipo can’t return to the Heat—or returns but is not 100%—the chances that Miami keeps him this summer when he hits free agency drop significantly. The Lakers, then, could be in position to make a bargain-basement move on Oladipo next summer.
‘Cousins Plan’ in Effect for Oladipo
The executive called it the “Boogie Cousins Plan,” and “plan” is the operative word. When Cousins injured his Achilles tendon in New Orleans in 2018, he signed on with the Warriors that summer on a one-year bargain deal, at $5.3 million. Golden State was the favorite to win the championship and, from Cousins’ perspective, the chance to join the Warriors for a long playoff run would allow him to get into shape and show teams he was worthy of a big contract.
It didn’t quite work, because Cousins struggled in the playoffs and did not look like a particularly wise investment. But the idea was sound—play for a high-profile contender, rescue your career.
Oladipo could be in that position this year. Even when healthy, he averaged only 12.0 points on 37.2% shooting, 23.5% 3-point shooting in his four games with the Heat.
“He has struggled this year and now he has the knee injury, and who knows if he is going to play again this season?” the exec told Heavy.com. “If he doesn’t, he is going to be a very cheap contract this summer. He would be better off taking a one-year deal, even a cheap one, and playing for a winner. He could win back a lot of faith in him that way.
“That’s where, if you’re the Lakers, you have to watch that situation and see if maybe his price goes down far enough where he takes your midlevel money and plays out a season hoping to show he is healthy and a good teammate. They have to be considered in the running for him if they want him.”
2021 Free Agency Class Has Dried Up
Back when the Lakers were going all out to protect their summer of 2021 cap space, thinking they’d have a crack at Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, Oladipo was one of the secondary names on L.A.’s free-agent wish list. He has twice been an All-Star in his career, averaging a career-high 23.1 points in 2017-18.
But he tore his quad muscle in 2019 and still has not appeared to be fully recovered.
In the meantime, the Lakers won a championship, George and Antetokounmpo signed extensions, and the goal of pursuing 2021 free agency fell by the wayside for L.A. But, oddly enough, Oladipo’s injury might make him viable for the Lakers, who figure to lose some combination of guards (Alex Caruso, Dennis Schroder, Talen Horton-Tucker) in free agency and will need a low-cost alternative.
The Heat have significant cap space and want to make a move this summer to put them back into legitimate contention. They likely won’t be up for a gamble on Oladipo’s health if he does not prove he can be his old self some time in the next month or so. More likely, they let Oladipo walk and pursue ex-Lakers target Kyle Lowry.
If that happens, other teams can, and possibly will, offer more money than the Lakers for Oladipo. But the Lakers can offer something few teams can—a chance to win on the big stage and give himself a shot at a bigger contract in 2022. Oladipo would have to give up some short-term money to make it work, but it’s a scenario worth remembering for the Lakers.