The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers are one loss away from being bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Injury issues knocked the Lakers down to the seven seed this season and have come back to bite them in the playoffs against a good Suns squad.
Already people are looking ahead to what will be an interesting offseason for the Lakers, regardless of when they exit the playoffs.
Among the free agents to be: Alex Caruso. The fan favorite, strong defender, and glue guy of the Lakers bench is an unrestricted free agent about to get a massive raise from the $2.75 million he is making this season. He’s likely going to jump up to eight figures a year — $10 million to $12 million a season — and a lot of teams are expected to come calling.
The Lakers — who have his Bird rights and can re-sign him at whatever price — expect him to stay, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.
Although there is a sense among Lakers officials that Caruso has relished supporting James and has an interest in staying in Los Angeles to compete alongside the four-time MVP.
This makes sense on one level, Caruso and LeBron James have had an on-court connection. Caruso is comfortable as a Laker.
While Caruso may prefer to stay, he’s also up for his first big contract and the Lakers should not expect a massive hometown discount. They will need to be in the ballpark of what other teams are offering.
The Lakers have some other free agent moves to watch this summer.
Andre Drummond is a free agent and ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on the Lowe Post Podcast said this was not just a half-season rental, that the Lakers want him to be part of the future of the franchise. The problem is the Lakers do not have Drummond’s Bird rights and cannot offer more than the taxpayer midlevel exception, expected to be $5.9 million. If another team with cap space comes in with a bigger offer, Drummond may well jump at it.
Then there is Dennis Schroder, who averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists a game during the regular season but has struggled at points these the playoffs. He reportedly rejected a four-year, $84 million extension from the Lakers (the max the team could offer him) but Los Angeles may have to rethink if they want to spend that much on him after these playoffs. The challenge is the same as with Drummond, the Lakers are so far over the cap they don’t have money to entice anyone better as a free agent. Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office may need to be creative with sign-and-trade deals — or explore the trade market for Kyle Kuzma again — to upgrade the roster.
All of that doesn’t get into whether Montrezl Harrell picks up his $9.7 million player option or decides to test the market after a first-round playoff series where he has barely played. Or whether the Lakers want to re-sign Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris, both unrestricted free agents.
Whenever the Lakers exit the playoffs, it is going to be a wild offseason in L.A. as they chase a third star and try to fill in a contending roster around LeBron and Davis.