Once a player accepts a one-year veteran minimum contract, they almost never get a larger one again.
Malik Monk is about to be the exception to that rule.
Monk rehabilitated his image with the best season of his career playing next to LeBron James with the Lakers last season — 13.8 points a game, shooting 39.1% from 3, and solid defense. In a season where so much went wrong for Los Angeles, Monk was one of the highlights (and he played 76 games on a team beset by injuries elsewhere).
Monk has earned a raise, likely around the mid-level exception of $10.4 million — the league average salary, which is just about right for Monk. Except, the Lakers can’t offer that because of the minimum contract he signed last season in L.A. (after one year the Lakers don’t have his Bird rights, and they don’t have the cap space just to sign him).
Monk told Jovan Buha of The Athletic he would take a discount to stay with the Lakers, maybe the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level that the Lakers do have to offer. Except, as Buha explains, even that might not be available.
[The exception is] also the Lakers’ only tool to improve in free agency, and they may have greater needs, particularly a 3-and-D wing with size who can complement James and Davis in the frontcourt, according to league sources…
“Money is always a part, man, but I don’t think it’s the biggest priority in my free agency this year,” Monk said. “It’s me feeling like I’m having a home and I can go out there and do the same things I did this year…
“They might not be able to pay me as much as I want,” he said. “But I could be here and be way more comfortable as a Laker than going to any other team (that would pay) me $5 million more. So it’s just me trying to figure out what team would really want me.”
That $6.4 million exception also could be how the Lakers land Kyrie Irving, if he really is willing to take a $30 million paycut next season (with anyone else that would be out of the question, with Irving… who knows?).
Monk is the first in what will be a parade of players this offseason to say, “it’s not about the money.” Except, it’s always about the money (again, Irving excepted). Not that he wouldn’t take a discount to return, but Monk has made $17.3 million so far in his career. Is he in a position to leave $5 million on the table?
The reality is that Monk has been so good he has almost certainly played his way off the Lakers. The good news for Monk is he should have his pick of a few different teams vying for his services, so he can find the best fit for himself.