The Los Angeles Lakers started the 2022-23 season with a shockingly poor 2-10 record. Their glaring lack of depth in their team composition played a heavy role in the early struggles.
Last season, the Lakers missed the playoffs entirely. Failing to do so two years in a row with two superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the helm was unacceptable. The team and front office knew this but remained patient in their trade discussions, especially those surrounding former league MVP Russell Westbrook.
As the trade deadline approached, the Lakers made a multitude of trades until the deadline passed. The first move brought Rui Hachimura from Washington, D.C. to the West Coast in exchange for Kendrick Nunn and a handful of second-round picks. Hachimura flourished in LA, building up their forward depth.
Later, Russell Westbrook was traded for a multi-team package including D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt. Suddenly, Los Angeles’ depth and season ceiling drastically improved. They reached the Play-In Tournament and fought an uphill battle all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the eventual NBA Champions Denver Nuggets.
After their unprecedented playoff run, the Los Angeles Lakers approached offseason free agency with some questions regarding cap flexibility and player retention. The expectations for this roster in the following season was beyond the Play-In Tournament. The city’s sights were set on a return to Finals contention and extending LeBron’s championship window in his contract year with LA.
Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura entered restricted free agency, and D’Angelo Russell became an unrestricted free agent. All three players were highly valuable in the Lakers’ post-trade deadline run that saved their season. Because of that, the possibility of losing or overpaying all three free agents was a lingering threat for Los Angeles at the start of the summer.
Their offseason activity maintained and improved their club, primarily through these three key successes that could prove to serve a pivotal role in the Lakers’ Finals aspirations in the 2023-24 campaign.
Lakers success No. 1 – Re-signing Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura on team-friendly contracts
The biggest storyline for the Lakers entering free agency was undeniably the futures of Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. Hachimura, a 25-year-old forward, had his best stretch since joining the NBA during the 2023 playoffs, shooting 48.7 percent from 3-point range on 2.4 attempts per game. The developing prospect proved to be a tremendous backup to LeBron James (and possible successor), giving the Lakers a needed boost in productivity whenever called upon.
Austin Reaves might be the surprise highlight of the year, going from an undrafted prospect a few years back to the third-best player on the team. Reaves was far from an All-Star last year as he averaged 13 points per game, but his confidence in clutch moments and unselfish attitude gave Los Angeles the edge numerous times.
Both players were restricted free agents sought after by plenty of rivals. Reaves could be offered up to $98 million on a four-year contract by other teams, though the Lakers would be able to match it. The San Antonio Spurs reportedly were almost about to offer Reaves the maximum possible but backed away in the last minute.
In the end, Reaves returned to the Lakers on a four-year, $53 million deal – the most the Lakers could offer on their own. Reaves’ willingness not to wait for another team to force Los Angeles to pay a premium showed a unique bond between Reaves and the team.
Hachimura signed earlier, agreeing to a three-year, $51 million contract.
Re-signing both players for an accumulative $104 million over four years is an outstanding move by the Lakers. Both players were high-level role players, and retaining them on low contracts gives the team maneuverability for future improvements.
Secondly, both deals kept the Lakers under the Luxury Tax, allowing them to utilize their full MLE on their next success.