Now that the Lakers have, mercifully, wrapped up their disastrous 2021-22 NBA season and confirmed the inevitable firing of coach Frank Vogel, attention turns to the team’s roster, which is packed with free agents who will enter the market bearing the stain of this year’s disappointment. There are only three players—LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker—who are under contract for next season, though Kendrick Nunn said he will opt in, and it is expected that Russell Westbrook will do the same on his $47 million deal.
Expect Austin Reaves back, too, as well as the newly upgraded Wenyen Gabriel. But everyone else is likely to scatter to the four winds, their value worse off as they exit than it was coming in. There is one exception, though: sharpshooting guard Malik Monk. There already are teams with free-agent money, mostly in the East, preparing to pursue him.
You know the tale here. The Lakers would like to keep Monk, who had a career year, and he would like to stay. Yet the Lakers can’t keep him. Well, they could keep him, but only if Monk is willing to forgo a guarantee of the biggest payday of his career and, instead, sign a one-year deal worth about $6.2 million, with a wink-and-nod agreement to sign a bigger deal when he is eligible next summer. The $6.2 million is the best the Lakers can offer under league rules.
Monk figures to be a mid-level exception player, at worst, on the open market and could fetch a deal in the three-year, $32 million (or four year, $45 million) range, according to sources around the league. He could make some of that back by signing with the Lakers the following summer, when the Lakers can pay him a mid-level deal themselves. But it would cost Monk up-front money and put him at enormous injury risk.
“It’s a good question, man,” Monk said, asked about his future. “It’s really me being comfortable, feeling like at home, whether that’s here or somewhere else, with little money or more money. It’s just me really feeling at home, at the end of the day. The money matters, but I know what I can do on the court and I can go out there and earn that. I think I proved that.”
Where would somewhere else be? One league executive said that Monk, who has often mentioned he had no offers last summer except the Lakers, will not have that problem again because there figure to be at least four teams in the hunt for Monk this summer, besides L.A.
“The team to watch, if he is going to leave the Lakers which he obviously should, is the Knicks,” the GM said. “They had interest in him last year, and some of it might depend on what happens with Evan Fournier, do they keep him or move him? But that is a team that needs talent, needs shooters and Monk will be a good value even at the mid-level.”
But there were two other Eastern Conference teams that came up: Chicago and Cleveland. “The Bulls need shooting, as much as they identify as a midrange team,” he said. “They have got to find shooters. It’s 2022, you need 3s. And Cleveland, they’re going to look to make an impact in free agency. They could use a shooter, too.”
In the Western Conference, the interest might be more limited. “Dallas, I would look out for them,” the GM said. “They need to create flexibility but once they do, they would have an interest in a guy like Monk.”
Gary Payton Speaks on Son’s Future With Warriors
Another case of being happy in a situation vs. getting paid your worth could come to pass in Golden State this summer, where impressive dunker/defender Gary Payton II will look to earn a major pay raise over the $1.9 million he made this season. Payton showed himself to be a top-tier perimeter defender, and appeared in 71 games this year. He should be in line for a deal in the $20 million range over three years.
Can the Warriors, who are well into the luxury tax, afford to pay him? His dad told Heavy that though Payton II wants to remain with the Warriors, loyalty has limits.
“I would never tell my son not to explore something that would be better or would be best for him,” Hall of Famer Gary Payton said. “But I think he understands that Golden State is the best situation for him if there is playing time and they get it right. But if it doesn’t work out, he knows that this is a business and he has to move on. I think he wants to stay with the Golden State Warriors and I think the Warriors want to stay with him. But as you understand, this is a business. They’re capped up. They gotta pay Draymond (Green), they gotta pay (Stephen) Curry, they gotta pay Klay (Thompson), now they’re going to give (Jordan) Poole a lot of money. So I don’t know how that’s going to work out.
“Our agent is going to give him the best advice and do what he has got to do. But I don’t think my son is a dummy. Because he’s my son.”
Slim Pickings for Rockets’ John Wall
Despite the obvious difficulty in moving point guard John Wall, Rockets GM Rafael Stone insisted there will be a trade market for Wall this summer. That is hard to believe considering Wall has now played 40 games in the last three seasons and is owed $47 million for next year. Stone did leave open the possibility of a buyout, though it would saddle the team with a major burden.
Part of the problem with Wall is that it is hard to imagine him returning to the court willing to be a role player. There’s really no team that is a sensible fit for him. All playoff teams have better point-guard options, and no rebuilding team is going to look to Wall as a solution at the point. Washington would make some sense and that’s one reason Wall’s camp floated a return to the Wizards on the rumor mill earlier this season.
Even the buyout market on Wall could be limited. Two potential destinations, if a Wall buyout comes, are the Knicks and Clippers, though interest there is tepid, too. The Knicks want to sort out their point guard situation, which lacks a true starter with Miles McBride, Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose on board. Wall is a potential last-ditch solution, much as Kemba Walker was last summer. We saw how that went.