Austin Reaves has emerged as one of the NBA's breakout players since the All-Star break, averaging 17.1 points and 5.7 assists per game for a Los Angeles Lakers team that has needed every bit of that production to remain in the play-in race. Reaves is in just his second season in the NBA after going undrafted in 2021, but now, he has already proven himself as a capable NBA player.
And soon, he's going to get paid like one. Reaves is set for restricted free agency this offseason, and he is sure to attract plenty of interest on the open market. He wants to remain with the Lakers, but as he explained on The Point Forward Podcast with Evan Turner, this is still going to be a financial decision for him.
"I would like to be here, but it is the NBA though, it is a business," Reaves said. "Unfortunately for me, I was not talented enough to come into the league at 18 or 19 years old, so a couple contracts behind someone that is a one-and-done. Anybody that says we do not play the game for money to me is lying. I feel like if you was not getting paid, I do not know if you would be here doing it. Obviously, everybody loves the game, but I want to make as much money as I can and be successful no matter where it is at."
Reaves is facing a complicated offseason. As Reaves has only been with the Lakers for two seasons, the team only has Early Bird Rights on him. That means that they can only offer him roughly the non-taxpayer mid-level exception as a free agent this offseason. Other teams with cap space can offer him more, but the Lakers will have the right to match any offer sheet he signs. Of course, such a deal will almost certainly be backloaded thanks to the Gilbert Arenas provision, meaning the Lakers would have to prepare for Reaves to make significantly more money at the back end of his contract than he did at the front.
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Whatever the price ultimately ends up being, the Lakers have little choice but to pay it. Reaves has grown into arguably their third-best player, and after the disaster of Alex Caruso's free agency two offseasons ago, the fans would be furious if the team lost another ascending undrafted free agent. Reaves is going to be expensive, but he's well worth the price to the Lakers.