The Los Angeles Lakers have extended a qualifying offer to young wing Talen Horton-Tucker, which will make him a restricted free agent this offseason rather than an unrestricted one, the team announced Thursday. As a restricted free agent, the Lakers will have the right to match any offer sheet Horton-Tucker signs with an opposing team and keep him in Los Angeles.
Other teams are limited in how much they can offer Horton-Tucker because of the Gilbert Arenas provision, which applies to restricted free agents that only have Early Bird Rights rather than full Bird Rights. The first two years of any deal he signs with another team cannot exceed the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, though the last two can go up to his max. In all, that makes him eligible for a contract worth up to around $82 million from another team. Matching such an offer would be expensive for the Lakers, especially in those last two seasons, but at least there is a limit on his price.
Issuing the qualifying offer is essentially a formality for Horton-Tucker. A qualifying offer is a one-year offer that a team makes its own restricted free agents that the player can choose to accept at any time rather than pursuing an outside offer sheet. The amount of that offer is based on the player's draft position, but since Horton-Tucker was a second-round pick, his is tiny at only around $1.9 million. Other players that weren't picked highly, such as Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, received higher qualifying offers thanks to meeting the starter criteria, but Horton-Tucker didn't play enough minutes or start enough games to get there. It wouldn't have mattered either way. The starter criteria qualifying offer is only around $4.7 million. Horton-Tucker is going to get more than that on a multi-year deal, so he has little reason to accept the qualifying offer. The Lakers just had to make it in order to keep him as a restricted free agent.
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The deadline for extending qualifying offers isn't until July 31. By making it now, the Lakers have sent a message. They intend to keep Horton-Tucker, their most valuable young player. If they wouldn't trade him for Kyle Lowry at the deadline, they almost certainly aren't going to let him walk for nothing now.