Lakers newsletter: Will they bring back Austin Reaves? And other offseason questions

Los Angeles, California May 23, 2023-Lakers Austin Reaves walks off the court after being swept by the Denver Nuggets.
Austin Reaves walks off the court after the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Welcome to this week’s Lakers newsletter, I’m Dan Woike, beat writer for the L.A. Times. This is the first newsletter of an offseason in which the team is set for big changes … or maybe not very many at all.

Let’s get right to it in a bit of a rapid-fire format, a bunch of quick thoughts on everything I’ve seen, noticed or heard since the end of the Lakers’ season last week.


On to the quick hitters

—All signs continue to point to what has been a widely-held belief around the Lakers — that they have prioritized Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura in restricted free agency.

—The Lakers’ open stance about matching offers for the two could end up saving the team money, particularly with Reaves. After a terrific postseason debut, teams with cap space don’t have much optimism they’ll be able to pry him free, which means the Lakers’ four-year, $52 million-ish max offer might be the most he gets. People around the league, though, seem to think Reaves is worth more, but the rules prohibit the Lakers from giving it to him unless they’re matching another team’s offer.

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—It’s funny how Reaves and Hachimura have been linked considering the two became a bit of a comedy act in the playoffs. In Golden State and Denver, the two sat next to each other and would playfully argue. Before one game, Hachimura pulled me aside, told me to get out my camera to film Reaves giving him a hard time. “Tell him I’ve got an entire country behind me,” Hachimura said with a laugh.

—I haven’t spoken to anyone who thinks LeBron James is retiring. The biggest reasons given to me for his comments after Game 4: fatigue from the season, frustration with getting swept and a reminder to the front office that the Lakers’ title window is closing, keeping a sense of urgency in the foreground.

D’Angelo Russell’s future with the Lakers is fair less certain. Sign-and-trade possibilities exist — the Lakers have endlessly been tied with Kyrie Irving, and Fred VanVleet’s name has been mentioned since even before he joined Klutch Sports, though the Lakers could again be in a position where they’d be forced to part with one or more draft picks in a deal. Russell’s postseason struggles were probably a little overblown after a disastrous Western Conference finals, but expect the Lakers to look at upgrade options. There’s still a chance Russell returns on a good deal and the Lakers actually get the continuity they’ve spoken about building.

Malik Beasley has value, either as a floor spacer or as a tradeable expiring contract. Those elements certainly factoring into the Lakers’ decision with his $16.5-million team option. There are strong arguments for picking up that option.

—There’s less optimism on Mo Bamba’s deal, which guarantees for $10.3 million on June 29 according to contract savants Spotrac. That’s a week after the NBA draft. It’s also the same day by which the Lakers have to make their decision on Beasley.

—Speaking of the draft, the Lakers are in an interesting position at No. 17. The last time they drafted in the teens was 2007 when they took Javaris Crittenton.

—Some players picked No. 17: Shawn Kemp, Jermaine O’Neal, Josh Smith, Danny Granger, Jrue Holiday, Dennis Schroder and Trey Murphy III.

—The Lakers have generally taken a “best available” approach to drafting. And the list of rookies to make significant postseason impacts is short. Since 2012-13, only 38 rookies have started two or more playoff games. Only six started 10 or more.


—The Lakers were well represented at Klutch Sports’ pro day where center Dereck Lively II impressed scouts with his length, touch and athleticism. Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. also left scouts impressed with his handling and shooting.

—The Lakers can trade their 2023 first-round pick on draft day and not violate the Stepien Rule that prohibits teams from dealing picks in consecutive years. The Pelicans have the rights to the Lakers 2024 pick (New Orleans could elect to take the 2025 first instead)

—Word was Pepperdine wing Maxwell Lewis performed well at his workout with the Lakers last week.

—Last year’s second-round pick, Max Christie, has people around the Lakers very excited with his potential as he heads into a big summer.

Darvin Ham left plenty of people in and around the Lakers impressed with his run during the postseason. “We’ve got a good one,” one Lakers player said after Game 4.

—Nuggets in 5.

Song of the Week

“Connected” by Stereo MC’s

This was a bit of a disconnected week with the hangover from the NBA season still going strong for me with the draft and free agency heading here sooner than later. 30-plus years after it was released, this song still rules (and offers some good advie).

In case you missed it

Lakers plan to keep young core together, hopefully with LeBron James


Hernández: Don’t worry, Lakers fans. LeBron James won’t retire this offseason. Here’s why

GM says LeBron James has earned a right to decide if he has more to give Lakers

Until next time...

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