Three Free Agents Lakers Must Keep!
How the Los Angeles Lakers can use room exception to re-sign free agents Mike Muscala, Reggie Bullock, and JaVale McGee
With all the attention on other teams’ free agents, the Lakers have three free agents of their own that they should be able to re-sign with raises to provide the team with elite three-point shooting and rim protection off the bench.
Before the trade deadline last season, the Lakers sacrificed two promising young players and filler in pair of unpopular trades to upgrade their three-point shooting off the bench. They traded Svi Mykhailiuk and a second round pick to the Pistons for shooting guard Reggie Bullock, a 28-year old career 39.2% three-point shooter, and then Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley to the Clippers for Mike Muscala, a 27-year old career 36.5% three-point shooter.
Both trades were panned heavily by media and fans as Muscala and Bullock struggled as Lakers and shot poorly right after the trade. Muscala ended up shooting just 34.2% and Bullock just 34.3% from beyond the arc, although both finally found their three-point strokes late in the season. In the Lakers’ last 15 games, Muscala hit 16 of 39 threes for 41.0% while Bullock hit 15 of 39 threes for 38.5%, the team’s second and third best 3-point percentages.
Meanwhile, starting center JaVale McGee, who struggled mightily and lost media and fan support midseason after a rough bout with pneumonia, also finished the season strong, averaging 15.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game in his last 15 games, to finish the season averaging 12.0 points, 7.5 boards, and 2.0 blocks in 22.3 minutes per game. While no longer the likely starter, McGee would still be great as a backup.
While all three players want to return to the Lakers, the problem is the team will likely have to renounce all three to save cap space to chase a superstar free agent and would thus be limited to just offering them minimum salaries. That would mean offering seven-year vet Muscala $2.7 vs the $5.0 million he made last year, eight-year vet Bullock $2.3 vs. the $2.5 million he made last year and thirteen-year vet McGee $2.6 vs. the $2.4 million he made last year.
Since all three would become unrestricted free agents when renounced, the Lakers would be smart to use part of their $4.8 million room exception to pay them more than the NBA minimum for their years in the league. For example, they could offer Muscala $6.0 million per year, Bullock $3.0 million per year, and McGee $4.0 million per year, which would cost them $2.9 million of their room exception, leaving them $1.9 million more to use for other players.
In addition to re-signing Muscala, Bullock, and McGee, the Lakers should offer minimum contracts of $838,464 to 25-year old point guard Alex Caruso, one of the team’s former two-way players who averaged 9.2 points, 3.1 assists, and 2.7 rebounds in 21.2 minutes in 35 games, and 24-year old small forward Jemarrio Jones, a late season addition who averaged 4.5 points, 8.2 boards, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 23.8 minutes per game.
All of these signings would obviously occur after the team had used it’s $32 million in cap space to sign other team’s free agents and provide the Lakers with needed bench depth and continuity. Along with LeBron James and the returning young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moritz Wagner, and Isaac Bonga, the Lakers would then have twelve players on their roster plus three openings for the #4 pick and a pair of free agents.
Here’s what their depth chart would look like before free agency and trades:
PG: Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Isaac Bonga
SG: Brandon Ingram, Reggie Bullock
SF: LeBron James, Josh Hart, Jemerrio Jones
PF: Kyle Kuzma, Mike Muscala
CE: JaVale McGee, Moritz Wagner,
By re-signing Muscala, Bullock, and McGee to two-year deals with raises and re-signing Caruso and Jones to one-year deals at league minimum, the Lakers would be returning twelve players from last season and would finally be able to benefit from continuity. Remember this team was a top four team in the West before all the injuries. Add a max contract superstar and a top-four draft pick and the Lakers could be a legitimate championship contender next year.
Re-signing Mike Muscala, Reggie Bullock, and JaVale McGee would give the Lakers’ bench three impact rotation players who could be counted on to give the Lakers elite three-point shooting and rim protection from their bench.