By now, the grave reality of the 2021-22 season has set in: The Los Angeles Lakers, who began the year with NBA title hopes, are a couple of games away from missing the postseason altogether.
After processing the five stages of grief, then talking themselves into delusions of upsets and the greatest comeback ever, fans are likely left wondering how we got here. Two years ago, the Lakers were champions, a defensive force to be reckoned with and had successfully developed many young players into championship caliber.
The front office will no doubt have its hands busy this summer, as free agency commences in August and teams scramble to dump contracts, sign players and address issues from last season.
While the Lakers have multiple questionable contracts under their belt (Russell Westbrook is set to earn $47 million in 2022-23 if he opts into his player option), a Western Conference NBA executive stated plainly why the Lakers will specifically face trouble in trading Talen Horton-Tucker, via Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:
“He may be great in four or five years, but he’s not right now,” the Western Conference executive said. “If we trade for him and he blows up, he’ll just opt out and hit free agency in 2023. We’d have no control over his contract.”
Horton-Tucker was originally drafted at No. 46 by Lakers in 2019 as the organization saw a bright future for the Iowa State Product.
As Pincus explained in his piece though, if the Lakers would have signed Horton-Tucker for three to four years as a rookie (what most teams offered their rookie players in the second round), they would have saved more money in the long run. Instead, he signed for two years, barely played the first season, then took on a larger role in the 2020-21 season.
Once Horton-Tucker’s contract was over, the Lakers had to up their offer to keep him, and gave him a hefty $30.8 million over the span of three years. His contract, however, includes a player option in 2023, meaning he can choose to become an unrestricted free agent but doesn’t have to if he wants to stay on the team.
In refusing to offer Horton-Tucker a longer contract as a rookie, the Lakers are now subject to two outcomes: either Horton-Tucker stays with the team in 2023 for $11 million or he has a breakout season and takes a better offer from a different team. This is the reality of just one of the team’s questionable contracts, and it’s one that most other front offices will stay away from.
Vogel feels the pressure of LeBron James’ legacy during tough season
Unfortunately for Frank Vogel, he has to make the most of his current roster before the longest season ever finally ends. The Lakers head coach has spent this year and last, dealing with his two superstars battling injuries and a cast around them who pales in comparison to the 2019-20 team.
Vogel said he is also dealing with the pressure of James’ legacy as he spends a crucial season on a Lakers team that is struggling to make the playoffs. This, along with other factors, has led to Vogel’s most difficult season yet.
“We’ve had too many really difficult nights and I think there’s an element of being a part of managing LeBron’s legacy for these final years of his career. I want to just give him the best opportunity to have team success throughout that,” Vogel said.
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!