Lakers rumored plans for key free agents will get fans excited for 2023-24 season

Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) and guard D'Angelo Russell (1) react with guard Austin Reaves. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) and guard D'Angelo Russell (1) react with guard Austin Reaves. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Los Angeles Lakers are on the brink of elimination after their heartbreaking Game 3 loss to the Denver Nuggets. No team in the history of the NBA has overcome an 0-3 deficit to win a series.

While LeBron James is one of the two best players of all time, this isn’t the same player who propelled sorry Cavaliers teams to the Finals and went toe-to-toe against the Warriors dynasty — pre and post Kevin Durant — for a handful of years.

Assuming the Lakers lose the series, whether it be in Monday’s Game 4 or later, there’s multiple reasons for optimism heading into the offseason.

In many ways, the playoffs have underlined the strengths and flaws of the roster.

Whereas Austin Reaves, a restricted free agent to be, has announced himself as a high-level role player, impending UFA D’Angelo Russell’s performance and recent benching has all but confirmed he won’t be back with the team.

With big decisions on the horizon for Rob Pelinka, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski shared some insight on LA’s offseason agenda.

Lakers rumored plans for Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell

Here’s what Wojnarowski said about Reaves and Rui Hachimura:

"“Both restricted free agents, I don’t see any scenario where the Lakers would not match on both. They have to… They’ve proved themselves to be win-now players with LeBron and Anthony Davis on their timeline (and) these are both starting-level players… Again, they will match on those two. They just cannot let them leave.”"

This is fantastic news. Both Reaves and Hachimura have spoken glowingly of their time in Los Angeles. Reaves is even on the record saying he wants to spend his entire prime with the franchise, while Hachimura has praised the team’s coaching staff and his teammates at every turn.

More importantly, Reaves and Hachimura have been the team’s premier playoff performers not named LeBron James or Anthony Davis. There’s been several games in which they outplayed the two superstars, including the Game 2 loss vs Denver before Jamal Murray went on a rampage in the fourth quarter.

Reaves is averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the postseason while shooting threes at an elite clip (44.2%). Hachimura, meanwhile, is posting 12.3 points and 3.4 boards while connecting on 52.8% of his threes.

Both players deserve significant pay days, and Woj’s reporting intimates the Lakers will do whatever it takes to keep them.

The same can’t be said for Russell, however.

"“D’Angelo Russell is a little different. Threading that is going to be interesting, I know they’ve talked preliminarily on an extension, I think they’ll deal with it after the season, and it really shows you with the way this Lakers roster will be built, it’s really hard to bring in the third big player anymore. With the new collective bargaining agreement, you’re in a much better place breaking (your salary) up with some very good players, and they learned that with the Westbrook trade. And with a new CBA and how punitive it is to be in the upper spending area, you can’t do anything with your roster at that point, the Lakers are in pretty good shape going into this summer."

Lakers Nation likely didn’t blink reading that quote. While Russell was serviceable against the undermanned Grizzlies and top-heavy Warriors, who don’t exactly champion defense, he’s a -52 in three games against the Nuggets.

Russell has proven unplayable when his shot isn’t falling. The Nuggets have hunted him on defense, and Darvin Ham adjusted accordingly (though way too late) by benching the guard the final eight minutes of Game 3.

There’s undeniably a command around the NBA for high-volume scoring, and Russell fits that bill. However, he’s a streaky shooter and his deficiencies on the other end of the floor seemingly have the Lakers second-guessing giving him an extension.

The vibes admittedly are in a bad place going into Game 4, but it’s hard for Lakers fans not to feel encouraged by team’s offseason plans.