Despite winning his first playoff series, Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves admits that he has been thinking a lot about his impending free agency. The undrafted guard has been a solid contributor to the Lakers’ success, and it is crucial that they keep him on board. In his first playoff series, Reaves averaged 16.5 ppg, five assists, and five rebounds per game. With such impressive statistics and undeniable talent, it’s no wonder that Austin Reaves has his eyes on the prize – free agency. In an interview with Dave McMenamin of ESPN, Reaves stated:
“I think about it quite a bit, honestly,” Reaves said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, just because, I’ve played basketball for so long and in college, there wasn’t an NIL deal, so I was basically playing for free. You get your school paid for, but I wasn’t that interested in school. So just to see and have the opportunity for all the times that I’ve questioned basketball — even in high school, like, ‘Am I ever going to get a Division I offer?’ When I’m at Wichita State, ‘Am I going to get an increased role?’ Really getting to a place here I can be myself, it means a lot that, all the time that I put in that it’s coming to the top now.”
It’s clear that Austin Reaves’ hard work and dedication to basketball have paid off, as evidenced by his impressive playoff performance. However, free agency botches with players like Malik Monk and Alex Caruso serve as reminders that the Lakers cannot take Reaves’ contributions for granted.
What Free Agency Might Look Like For Austin Reaves
Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus and ESPN’s Bobby Marks have both broken down what free agency might look like for Austin Reaves. Since the Lakers have his bird rights, and he is restricted free agent, they do have some leverage. The former Oklahoma star could stand to receive a $52 million, four-year deal. Because of the Bird Rights, the Lakers can only offer up to $11.4 million in the first year.
Where it becomes tricky is on the back half of the contract. Opposing teams may offer more lucrative deals to Reaves, and it will be up to the Lakers to match. Another team may offer a hefty deal in the fourth year of the contract that the Lakers may not be willing to match. This could include a jump from anywhere between $18 million and $36 million if a team felt he was worth the max. His skill set is one that can mesh well with a variety of teams, making him an attractive option for free agency.
“I would love to be here my whole career,” Reaves said. “Just the way that the fans treat me, the love they have for me, as an undrafted player, it’s kind of like they raised me type of vibe. … It feels like it’s meant to be. It feels like this all happened for a reason and this is where I should be.”
The Lakers Seem Committed to Keeping Austin Reaves
Obviously, the Lakers have found a diamond in the rough with Austin Reaves, and they appear committed to retaining him for the long haul. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka revealed that during the trade deadline, moves were made to give Reaves a bigger role.
“The trade deadline isn’t always what you bring in,” Rob Pelinka, Lakers general manager and vice president of basketball operations, told ESPN. “It opened up a lane for him [Reaves] to really get on ball a little bit more and kind of show some of the skills that might have been dormant when there were other players playing.
“[It was] definitely a consideration around Austin and how do we free up more — both time for him and then ability to make plays with the ball in his hand. Because the analytics show, he’s highly effective.”
There were reports that Lakers’ governor Jeanie Buss labeled him as untradeable at the deadline. The mutual admiration and commitment between the Lakers and Austin Reaves is evident. Both parties seem intent on keeping him in purple and gold for years. It seems like the team will learn from past free agency mistakes and do what it takes to not let such a valuable player slip away.
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