No matter what happens this season, the Lakers will be a favorite to win the NBA championship next season. As long as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are a tandem, the league should expect the Lakers to always contend at the highest level.
With LeBron set to turn 37 years old next season, the surrounding cast is incredibly important. We saw that without LeBron or Anthony Davis, the Lakers dropped from a top-3 seed in the Western Conference to the No. 7 seed. The Lakers will need to ensure that the team is well-rounded to compete in this limited championship window.
The Lakers will have 11 impending free agents in this year’s 2021 class. That includes the following:
- Talen Horton-Tucker (restricted)
- Kostas Antetokounmpo (restricted)
- Devontae Cacok (restricted)
- Andre Drummond (free agent)
- Dennis Schroder (free agent)
- Alex Caruso (free agent)
- Jared Dudley (free agent)
- Wesley Matthews (free agent)
- Ben McLemore (free agent)
- Markieff Morris (free agent)
- Montrezl Harrell (player option)
With a combined $76.4 million tied to LeBron and Davis alone, as well as another $26 million tied to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers are going to have some tough decisions. The 2021-2022 salary cap situation states that teams can spend between $112 million and $136.6 million.
If Harrell exercises his option, the Lakers will already have $121 million in salary. If he doesn’t, it could open the door for more players to return. All we know is that all 11 players won’t be back, so which players are going to be the hardest to bring back?
5. Alex Caruso
Caruso has been very good this season and will ask for a lot of money. Defensively, he provides the hustle that the first unit doesn’t always bring. Offensively, this has been one of his best seasons shooting 43.6% from the field and 40.1% from three-point range.
This type of work could help land him a contract of around $10 million per season. Currently, Caruso makes just $2.7 million, but it’s widely speculated that Caruso is likely to return to the Lakers. The LeBron regime believed in Caruso from the start and he’s one of those players that succeeds in this system. Out of all the players that could leave for more money, Caruso could easily return to Los Angeles for less money to continue to compete for championships. Caruso is the equivalent of Shawn Livingston during Golden State’s dynasty run.
4. Talen Horton-Tucker
Horton-Tucker makes around $1.5 million but is having a standout season. The No. 46 overall pick from 2019 is averaging 9.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 1.0 steals and is just 20 years old. Kyle Lowry was going to become a Laker at the trade deadline, but the Lakers would not budge on their up-and-coming prospect.
Since Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent, the Lakers can match any offer presented to him. It’s reported that the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls have an interest. If the Lakers didn’t trade him for an All-Star caliber, veteran guard, then shouldn’t they be heavily favored to keep him? That’s true, but at what cost?
3. Montrezl Harrell
Harell is likely going to reject his player’s option that would pay him around $9.7 million. Harrell is not providing the stats as he did during his Sixth Many of the Year campaign in 2020, but he is playing with a different set of players. It’s been reported that Harrell hasn’t been happy with his role, so if the Lakers don’t win a championship, he could look to get a long-term contract somewhere else.
The San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets, and Dallas Mavericks are all suitors and prime fits for Harrell’s services. If Harrell rejects his player option, he is going to want more than $9.7 million and quite frankly, the Lakers are not going to be able to afford him.
2. Dennis Schroder
Schroder was the runner-up to Harrell in the Sixth Man of the Year Award voting in 2020, and is another player reportedly unhappy with his role in L.A. Schroder believes that he is one of the top tier point guards in the league, which would lead to a hefty payday. For now, Schroder makes $15.5 million but thinks he is worth at least $20 million per season.
The Lakers are not going to pay Schroder that much. For starters, his shooting stats are some of his lowest in his career, especially his three-point field goal percentage. He also missed time due to injuries, while his points per game are the lowest since 2015. Given what Schroder wants and what the Lakers believe he is worth, there is a very long divide between the two parties.
1. Andre Drummond
When Drummond played for the Cavaliers, he was playing like the future starting center for the All-Star team. Drummond averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in 25 games. Then, the Cavaliers shut Drummond down in favor of playing Jarrett Allen, which led to Drummond not playing an NBA game for over a month. Since agreeing to a deal with the Lakers, Drummond has averaged 11.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in 21 games.
Even though those numbers are not what he put up in Cleveland, he is a 27-year old former rebounding champion that has at least three to four prime years left. Drummond is going to command one of the largest salaries among centers, if not players in the league in general. The Charlotte Hornets have already emerged as a heavy favorite for his services and Lakers fans should not expect him to return.