Ramon Sessions declines option; Lakers left with their guard down
With the stroke of a pen Tuesday, the Lakers went from having a point guard of the future to almost no point guards.
Ramon Sessions will not exercise a player option to stay with the Lakers and will become a free agent, leaving Steve Blake as their only point guard under contract.
Sessions would have earned $4.55 million next season. He could return to the Lakers by signing with them, but there’s no guarantee of it.
“Both sides have to absorb some risk,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. “I’m not quite sure if he’s completely aware of what the future holds for him. We have to plan for the contingency that he won’t be available as a free agent.”
Kupchak said he wished Sessions had exercised the one-year option to allow the Lakers more time to evaluate him.
Sessions, 26, started off well with the Lakers after being acquired from Cleveland at the trade deadline, averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 assists in 23 regular-season games, 19 as a starter.
He tailed off in the playoffs, however, his numbers dropping to 9.7 points and 3.6 assists a game and 37.7% shooting accuracy. Sessions had never been to the playoffs in four other NBA seasons spent mostly as a backup.
“Ramon has carefully considered this decision,” Sessions’ agent, Jared Karnes, said in a statement. . “He had to make a career decision and ultimately decided to do what was best in providing stability and longevity for him in the NBA, and this could only be achieved through a multiyear contract.”
Deron Williams would be the top free-agent point guard if he declined a player option with New Jersey, but the Lakers couldn’t come close to affording him.
The Lakers are so far over the NBA luxury tax that their main free-agency tool this summer is a limited one — offering the “mini” mid-level exception for $3 million next season. The average NBA salary is $5.3 million.
More realistic free-agent guard possibilities include Kirk Hinrich, 39-year-old Jason Kidd and maybe Raymond Felton if he is willing to take a pay cut after a subpar season with Portland.
“In terms of high-profile names, I would not categorize this free-agent class as one of the best ever, but there’s always value out there,” Kupchak said. “There’s somebody out there every year that can play and help your club.”
The Lakers can offer Sessions more than the mini mid-level because they own his “Bird rights,” granting them more leeway than other teams in a few areas, including length of contract and annual raises.
It’s only a breakup right now, and not officially a divorce unless Sessions signs with another team, but the Lakers currently don’t have much to show for the two first-round draft picks they traded in March.
Along with Sessions, forward Jordan Hill is a free agent, meaning Christian Eyenga is their only player under contract remaining from trade deadline-day deals with Cleveland and Houston.
The Lakers acquired Sessions for Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, less than $1 million in cash and a first-round pick that turned out to be 24th overall in next week’s draft. The Lakers also received the seldom-used Eyenga.
That same day, the Lakers sent Derek Fisher and a future first-round pick to Houston for Hill in a salary dump.
Sessions showed bursts of speed after joining the Lakers and outscored up-and-coming Denver guard Ty Lawson in two of the Lakers’ first four playoff games but then lost confidence in his shot and was sometimes replaced in late-game situations by Blake.
In a postseason meeting with Lakers Coach Mike Brown and Kupchak, Sessions was told to work on his shooting during the off-season. He had until Wednesday to decide on his contract option.
Blake, 32, has two more years and $8 million remaining on his deal. Backup guard Darius Morris took the unusual step of signing a one-year deal as a rookie and will become a free agent at the end of this month after playing only 19 games with the Lakers.
Sessions suggested in an April interview with The Times that he would not exercise his one-year option but hoped to work out a multiyear deal with the Lakers after becoming a free agent.
“I want to be here. I don’t know what that means or how that’s going to happen,” he said at the time. “I’ll tell anybody that. I tell Mitch Kupchak. I tell my agent. I want to be here. Period. For a long time.”
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