Austin Reaves is going to get paid, likely more than Lakers were hoping
The 2023 playoffs have made Austin Reaves a lot of money.
The 2023 playoffs also have shown why the Lakers need to pay Reaves that money to keep him, even if the price is higher than they wanted. While the Lakers are down 0-3 against the Nuggets, look at Reaves’ numbers from the series, points and true shooting percentage:
23 points, 73 TS%
22 points, 66.9 TS%
23 points, 91 TS%
Reaves has been a bright spot for the Lakers, and other teams are noticing, too. Marc Stein wrote this in a recent chat for subscribers of his newsletter.
Nothing here is a surprise. Reaves has said he wants to stay with the Lakers, and even team governor Jeanie Buss has said she wants him to return. Other teams being interested is not news as well. The question is money, and with this being his first big contract, Reaves will not give a hometown discount (this is his first generational wealth contract).
The Lakers have Reaves Early Bird rights, but he is on a minimum contract, meaning the max they can offer him is four years, $50.8 million. As Stein notes, it is expected some team filled with young talent looking for guards — Orlando, perhaps, but there are others — will come in higher than that. The Lakers have the right to match any offer, but the Arenas Rule kicks in, making the second half of that contract far more painful.
For example, let’s say a team offers Reaves four years, $80 million (not out of the question the way he has looked these playoffs). On the books of Orlando (or whichever team makes the offer), it would be $20 million a year for four years. However, on the Lakers books they can’t go higher than the $11.4 million they could offer on their own this year. What that ultimately means is that in the Lakers’ payroll the first two years would be $11.4 million and $12.2 million, then the final two years of this hypothetical offer will see Reaves making more than $27 million a season. It is a poison pill contract.
The Lakers don’t have a choice and will pay it.
Reaves has become the secondary shot creator the Lakers hoped Russell Westbrook would be, and this postseason has shown his value. The Lakers will match any offer, it’s just going to be expensive and raises questions about their other free agents and decisions this summer: D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr. and more.
The Lakers have to pay up this summer to keep the core of this roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis that works — this team looks like a contender and they should be all in on making another run next season. However, the bill will come due in a couple of years, and with the new CBA tying the hands of teams above the second tax apron (go more than $17.5 million over the luxury tax and teams can’t use any mid-level exception, can’t use the buyout market, can aggregate contracts in a trade, and much more) there are going to be hard choices. Eventually.
Whatever happens, Reaves will get paid.