Discussions about running it back for the 2021-22 season have dominated the Los Angeles Lakers’ early offseason mindset. And while that is definitely a feasible option, the Lakers could also face an offseason of monumental change, with 11 players potentially hitting free agency.
As of now, the Lakers have seven unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents and a player option. They could bring back most, if not all, of them. However, they could also completely rebuild the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Part 2 of this free agency primer will serve as a guide for those players most likely to stay with the Lakers this offseason and the path to keeping them around. Here is a link to Part 1, which was focused on players that are most likely to leave.
Alex Caruso: UFA with Bird Rights
Caruso has gone from a G League sensation to fan-favorite to an All-Defense caliber player. Now, he’s in line for the biggest payday of his career as he hits unrestricted free agency. The Lakers own Caruso’s full bird rights, meaning they can sign him for any amount without worrying about the salary cap.
The only team with even reported interest in Caruso thus far — beyond the Lakers — is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Caruso will likely garner a contract somewhere in the $8-12 million range, a price the Lakers should absolutely be willing to pay.
Caruso is a vital part of the team’s identity and meshes perfectly with James and Davis. It would be legitimately shocking to see him anywhere else, and Caruso has said he wants to be back with the team as well. The likeliest scenario is Caruso being back in L.A. on a reasonable contract.
Wesley Matthews: Non-Bird UFA
The Lakers won several games this season on the back of their veteran forward, Wesley Matthews. He joined the Lakers using a $3.6 million bi-annual exception, so L.A. cannot use this during the 2021-22 season. The Lakers do not have Matthews’ bird rights, either, limiting the ways they can bring him back.
They essentially have two options. L.A. can either sign him to a veteran minimum contract or they can use some of their Mid-Level Exception to bring him back. If they want to avoid triggering another hard cap, they cannot use more than $5.9 million in MLE’s, meaning that’s the maximum they could pay someone like Matthews.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Matthews to re-sign on a veteran minimum, especially after being one of the most vocal players about running it back. If another team wants to give him significantly more than a veteran minimum, L.A. should and likely will let him walk. Otherwise, he’s a perfect veteran to play alongside James and Davis.
Markieff Morris: Early-Bird UFA
With bird rights, a player can re-sign with a team for any amount without regard for the salary cap. Early-bird rights, however, only allow a team to re-sign a player for 175% of their previous salary or 105% of the league-average salary — whichever is greater — without regard for the salary cap.
For Markieff Morris, however, this likely won’t be an issue. Morris has made it abundantly clear he loves playing in L.A. and specifically for the Lakers, and will happily run it back in 2021-22. To do this, he would most likely accept a veteran minimum contract.
Much like Matthews, if the Lakers can keep him for the minimum, then it’s a no-brainer. If they have to pay him more, it’s more likely he walks.
Jared Dudley: Early-Bird UFA
All of Morris’ rules apply to Jared Dudley as well. However, Dudley’s free agency is by far the simplest of the 11 players they need to decide on. It can almost be guaranteed that Dudley will be on the Lakers next season via a veteran minimum contract. If he’s not, it’s probably because he retired and joined the Lakers coaching staff, although that’s less likely.
Talen Horton-Tucker: RFA
Talen Horton-Tucker is one of three restricted Lakers free agents. How that works is L.A. will offer him a qualifying offer worth $1.87 million, and Horton-Tucker will be courted by opposing teams.
From there, Horton-Tucker can sign an offer sheet with another team and the Lakers will be given 72 hours to match that deal. If they do, he stays a Laker on that contract. If they don’t, he joins that opposing team. The likeliest scenario is Horton-Tucker remaining on the Lakers on a contract similar to Caruso’s.
This is almost guaranteed not to happen, but Horton-Tucker can also accept his $1.87 million qualifying offer, play for the Lakers in 2021-22, then enter unrestricted free agency next season.
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