NBA Summer League is officially underway and the biggest story for the Los Angeles Lakers thus far has been Max Christie. Christie has been circled as the next potential breakout player for the Lakers and thus far he is living up to those expectations.
Christie was excellent on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors and was undoubtedly the best player on the court. The former second-round pick finished with 22 points, six boards and two assists while making three of five from deep.
Christie also supplied a highlight reel dunk that made Lakers fans even more excited for what he can do in his second season in the league.
This is all great and it is absolutely justified to expect Christie to be a breakout player. After all, the Lakers have made a habit out of drafting and developing players to turn into legitimate rotation players.
All that being said, fans should at least temper expectations some. Balling out in the Summer League is great but that doesn’t always equate to regular-season success. Look at Talen Horton-Tucker and Cole Swider. More importantly, a previous Lakers mistake could actually hold Christie back from producing like fans are expecting this season.
Lakers giving Lonnie Walker the full MLE could hamper Max Christie this season
Last offseason the Lakers opted to sign Lonnie Walker IV to the full taxpayer’s Mid-Level Exception even though he didn’t seem to have much of a market. While Walker had promising moments (including against the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs), he still ended up getting booted from the rotation in the playoffs and only returned once Malik Beasley ruined his chance.
Walker is also a Klutch Sports client and it is likely that the Lakers were doing LeBron James and his agency a solid. After all, Walker only signed a league-minimum deal with the Brooklyn Nets and that is after his playoff heroics. His value last summer wasn’t any higher.
By signing Walker to the full MLE, the Lakers were unable to use any of that money to sign Christie to more than a two-year deal. Thus, just like Reaves last summer and THT in the past, Christie is going to be a restricted free agent after the 2023-24 season.
It is not absurd to think that the Lakers will play hard-ball and try to keep Christie as big of a secret as possible. Obviously, the main goal is to win games but with a really deep rotation, the Lakers could limit Christie’s actual time on the court to keep his market down.
He will still get regular-season minutes but in the postseason it would not be surprising at all if Christie is axed from the rotation as it shrinks to 7-8 guys. After all, it is easy to make a 7-8 man rotation in LA without Christie with all of the talent on the roster.
If Christie was locked in for another year or two then maybe we would have seen the team make more aggressive moves, such as playing Christie over D’Angelo Russell if he was struggling like he did in the postseason last year.
But with the long-term view in mind, the Lakers may limit Christie to just being a regular-season player so they don’t have to overpay him like they just recently did with THT.