NBA Execs: Lakers ‘All-In on Paying’ Critical Group of Players

D'Angelo Russell, Lakers (right)

Getty D'Angelo Russell, Lakers (right)

One of the casualties of the NBA trade deadline madness that saw the Lakers add six new players will be the team’s willingness to create a sizable swath of cap space to add another piece this summer. Had the Lakers opted to hold onto Russell Westbrook—an upcoming free agent—the team would have seen his $47 million contract expire and found themselves around $30 million under the cap.

But, according to league executives, the Lakers won’t make the same push to clear the salary decks now that they’ve added some promising young players to their current mix. The Lakers had to reluctantly cough up their 2027 first-round pick to overhaul the roster, and teams around the league are well aware that could be a very valuable pick when it crops up.

Mostly, though, the Lakers are aware. They did well to clutch tightly to the pick and bolster its value before ultimately trading it in a very good package to the Jazz.

“They would never have given up that pick unless they planned to make some long-term investments,” one GM told Heavy Sports. “They were willing to trade it but they needed some guys just heading into their primes to convince them to give it up. Now they’ve got (D’Angelo) Russell, they’ve got (Jarred) Vanderbilt, they’ve got Malik Beasley, plus (Rui) Hachimura, Austin Reaves. We’ll see what they do with Mo Bamba, too.

“That’s a base of young players that they did not have before, you know, guys who are mid-20s (in age). They’re going to keep those guys in place. They’re all in on paying those guys.”

D’Angelo Russell Contract Dilemma

That could get interesting. Teams that have had Russell on their rosters throughout his career, including the Lakers (who drafted him) have been especially willing to trade him.

Russell is a free agent next summer, and figures to be the most expensive investment the Lakers will make. Russell is in the final year of a four-year, $117 million contract he signed as part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors, and will make $31.4 million this season.

Given that Russell struggles defensively and has good, not great, numbers (17.9 points and 6.2 assists. 46.4% shooting, 39.0% 3-point shooting) it might seem a longshot that he would land a similar deal this summer from L.A. But a floor would be a three-year deal in the $70 million range, the GM said, and that could change depending on what happens with other free-agent guards on the market.

Fred VanVleet, Kyrie Irving and James Harden will be among the players setting the guard market in the league this summer, and all three come with questions that could cause a massive fluctuation in value—can VanVleet find a legit suitor with deep pockets, can Irving find a hoe in Dallas, how far can Harden lead the Sixers and does he want to go back to Houston?

It is volatile, but one executive estimated that Russell would get an “Anfernee Simons kind of deal.” Simons signed for four years and $100 million last summer. “It will land between that and four years, $120 million, you can see that,” the executive said. “Russell could finish out strong and make it $30 million-a-year-or-bust. But that is hard to justify that kind of money, he does not defend and isn’t a great shooter.”

Lakers Dilemma 2: Rui Hachimura

The Lakers also must make a call on Rui Hachimura, acquired from Washington last month. The team likes his versatility and ability to play both forward spots, but paying him will be tricky—in four NBA seasons, Hachimura has not made a significant jump forward, and is averaging 10.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 11 games in L.A. so far. Hachimura is a restricted free agent next summer.

Sources told Heavy Sports that the Lakers hope to retain Hachimura on a deal similar to that given to Kyle Kuzma back in 2020 (three years, $39 million) though there is an expectation that there could be some inflation there. Hachimura was seeking a much bigger extension than that from the Wizards this summer, but failed to come to an agreement with Washington and has not played his way to a major raise since.

A short deal could benefit Hachimura if he can string together a breakout campaign, as Kuzma has done this season.

“He wanted something around $20 million from the Wizards and they were never going that high,” on Western Conference exec told Heavy Sports. “He has to be a little humbled by this season because he just didn’t make that jump he expected to make—he can’t shoot and if you can’t shoot as a wing in the NBA, you’re in trouble. So, I’d expect him to get three years, with an option. Something like $13-14 million, that way he is still a good trade asset going forward or he is going to be a guy who becomes a huge bargain. He is not going to get a better offer so they could play it out and say, ‘OK, see what the market is and we’ll match.’

“Look, the other guy they got is (Mo) Bamba and he took the quick and easy way out of restricted free agency last year, with the 1-and-1 deal (one year, plus a team option, at $10.3 million per year). Players hate restricted free agency. Bamba took that deal and set himself up for two decent years of getting paid, then a chance to really cash in if he shows he is any good. That option is there for Hachimura, too, just take the one year with an option and get back into the market without the restricted tag.”

A two-year deal at $20.6 million total, with the second year not guaranteed would be a major win for the Lakers, but is certainly possible in Hachimura’s case.

As the West exec said, the Lakers will probably have an easy decision on Bamba, whose $10.3 million price tag is a relative bargain. The same goes for Malik Beasley, who has a $16.5 million team option.

Bamba has shown promise as a rim-protecting stretch-5 but has not had much opportunity to show his wares. Bamba is hoping that opportunity comes as the primary backup to Anthony Davis and Vanderbilt. If not?

“Still a lot of trade value on him,” the exec said. “The Lakers got him for almost nothing, really, so if they have to move him again in the summer, it is still a win there.”

Wins could be a factor here, too. The Lakers opened the post-All-Star part of the season at 27-32, 13th in the West and 2.0 games out of the final play-in spot. It’s expected that the Lakers will try to keep all their new guys—but that could depend on how the remainder of this season plays out.