Is the door open for the Lakers to be players in free agency?



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The Lakers will enter Sunday’s free-agency period as one of the more interesting teams despite having a roster near capacity and, currently, limited means for improvement.

The greatest intrigue came Saturday when LeBron James, as expected, opted out of his contract with the Lakers to become an unrestricted free agent. According to people with knowledge of the decision not authorized to speak publicly, James plans to re-sign with the Lakers.

The only question is for how much?

According to reports, James would consider taking less money should the Lakers be able to lure a high-impact free agent with the full midlevel exception — a plan that could cost James more than $16 million next season.

While that steep of a pay cut is viewed as unlikely, the Lakers could shed salary elsewhere to close that gap to a more palatable level. The problems, though, are multiple.

One, can the Lakers acquire an important enough addition with the midlevel exception, which begins at $13 million per season? Two, can they offload salary with their limited draft capital? And three, will James ultimately agree that the impact from the additional free agent would be worth the significant salary sacrifice?

One of those players the Lakers could target is Klay Thompson, who has interest in playing for the franchise with which his father won multiple championships and currently broadcasts games.

Dallas and Thompson are known to have mutual interest, people familiar with the situation confirmed to The Times.

James, who turns 40 in December, earned a place on the All-NBA third team last season after playing 71 games — the most since joining the Lakers in 2018.

The Lakers, to date, have been willing to sign James to whatever type of contract he desires, which could be worth up to $162 million over three years.

The team learned Friday night guard D’Angelo Russell and reserve center Jaxson Hayes both planned to exercise their player options to return, with Russell set to make $18.7 million in the final year of his deal.

On Saturday, the Lakers were informed forward Cam Reddish would also exercise his player option for next season, worth $2.46 million. He averaged 5.4 points and 2.1 rebounds in 48 games, 26 as a starter. A right ankle injury cost him 22 games late in the season.

If the Lakers were looking to find a home for Russell as a salary dump, they could look to Dallas’ recent Tim Hardaway Jr. trade, where the Mavericks attached three second-round picks to send him and his $16-million expiring contract to Detroit.

Still, Russell set the Lakers’ franchise record for made three-pointers last season and has expressed optimism about how new coach JJ Redick could optimize the Lakers’ offense.

Russell averaged 18 points and 6.3 assists on 45.6% shooting from the field and 41.5% from three-point range. It’s the second straight season he has shot better than 40% from three.

Redick spoke openly about his desire for the Lakers to take more three-point shots after finishing 28th in three-point attempts last season.

Those decisions, plus the eventual signings of draft picks Dalton Knecht and Bronny James, would leave the Lakers with 14 of their 15 roster spots already filled once LeBron James re-signs with the team. The team also extended a qualifying offer to 21-year-old Max Christie, making him a restricted free agent. The Lakers will have the right to match any offer Christie signs with another team.

Last week when the Lakers announced Redick as their new coach, Christie was mentioned as one of the young players the team is committed to developing.

The team could also become players in free agency should they clear roster room by trading multiple players.

Free agency officially begins Sunday at 3 p.m. PDT.

Staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.



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