The Lakers Crushed Free Agency

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Six
Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Six / Harry How/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers absolutely nailed the first few days of NBA free agency. General manager Rob Pelinka managed to retain all the team's key pieces, while adding to a squad that reached the Western Conference Finals and creating roster flexibility. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have to be thrilled with what they saw over the weekend.

Following a whirlwind trade deadline where Pelinka completely remade the Lakers' roster, the squad went on a run and the NBA's hottest team heading into the postseason. That wave of success carried the Lakers to the conference finals where they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Denver Nuggets. LA was swept in four highly-competitive games that showed some weaknesses. Pelinka went about filling those cracks as soon as free agency opened.

The most important deals the Lakers made were retaining key pieces. Rui Hachimura fit in seamlessly after LA acquired him before the deadline. He stepped up in the postseason, averaging 12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and hitting 48.7 percent from 3-point range. But his defensive toughness is what secured his return to the team. The Lakers re-upped the restricted free agent to a three-year, $51 million deal. It's a bit high for what he offers on the court, but it's also the kind of contract that could easily be packaged into a trade if the franchise ever chose to go in a different direction.

Perhaps LA's most important move was retaining restricted free agent Austin Reaves. The former undrafted free agent became the Lakers' third-most important player late in the 2022-23 season. In his second year in the NBA, Reaves averaged 13.0 points, 3.4 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 39.8 percent from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-5 combo guard got better as the campaign went along. In the Lakers' last 11 regular season games he averaged 19.8 points and 6.1 assists and shot 46.3 percent from 3-point range. He was similarly excellent in the postseason (16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 44.3 percent from deep).

The Lakers had to bring Reaves back, and they did on a four-year, $56 million max deal. They were able to keep him for below his market value (he could have gotten as much as $100 million on the open market) because LA scared everyone else off by threatening to match any deal he agreed to. Reaves didn't get any other offers. The 25-year-old is the exact kind of player who fits perfectly around James and Davis. A scrappy, high-energy shooter/scorer who can play defense. He can also has the versatility to be a primary ball-handler or work off-the-ball.

Pelinka was also able to convince D'Angelo Russell to return to the fold. The Lakers acquired Russell at the deadline and he was excellent late in the season. After the trade, he averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists while hitting 41.4 percent from 3-point range in 17 regular season games. The Lakers went 12-5 in that stretch and were able to work their way into the postseason as a result. While Russell struggled in the playoffs, his ability to make plays and stretch the floor will space things out for James and Davis. He's getting a two-year, $37 million deal that is really a one-year, "prove it" contract for (around) $17.8 million, with a player option for the second season. The ideal situation for Russell would be to outplay this contract, opt-out of Year 2 and earn a multi-year deal next offseason.

The first move the Lakers made when free agency opened was to lock in Taurean Prince on a one-year, $4.5 million deal using the biannual exception. A rugged 3-and-D wing, Prince is a tough, 6-foot-6 forward who has hit 37.2 percent from 3-point range during his career. The 29-year-old hit 38.1 percent from deep last season and can defend multiple positions. Again, toughness and shooting are things the Lakers emphasized this offseason, which is why they used the mid-level exception on Gabe Vincent.

Vincent had a pedestrian regular season for the Miami Heat, but the 6-foot-2 guard flourished in the playoffs. With Tyler Herro sidelined, he played more than 30 minutes per game and averaged 12.7 points per game, while shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range and 88.2 percent from the free throw line. A tough, physical defender who fit right in with #HeatCulture, he'll be a perfect piece for LA's second unit, and could finish games with the starters if his defense is needed. He'll replace Dennis Schroeder who took a two-year, $26 million deal from the Toronto Raptors. With that in mind, the 27-year-old Vincent's three-year, $33 million deal looks like a bargain.

In another huge move that went largely unnoticed, the Lakers inked Jaxson Hayes to a two-year, $4.6 million deal -- the second season being a player option. LA badly needed to find another rim-protector behind Davis and they grabbed an uber-talented, athletic former lottery pick. The 23-year-old, 7-foot center is a great finisher around the rim and can stretch the floor a bit. He needs to get tougher in the paint defensively, but there is a ton of upside there. It's essentially a chance for Hayes to prove himself and look for a bigger deal next offseason. The Lakers will rely heavily on their player development staff here to mine Hayes' talent.

The same could be said for Cam Reddish, who joined the Lakers on a minimum deal as well. Reddish is all untapped potential. The 10th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, he's never been able to find consistency, alternating between offering brilliance and nothing. After landing in Portland at the trade deadline, the 23-year-old averaged 11.0 points, and 3.0 rebounds but only shot 44.3 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from 3-point range. A 6-foot-8 wing with a ton of athleticism, Pelinka took a low-cost gamble on the talent here.

The Lakers added to what was a really nice roster and did so without saddling themselves with massive contracts and blowing up their luxury tax bill. They didn't go star-chasing and instead made prudent moves to build with solid players who fit with James and Davis. They added toughness, defense shooting and athletic upside. It was everything the team needed and Pelinka should be praised.