EL SEGUNDO — If the Lakers are to chase the franchise’s NBA-record 18th NBA championship next season, the key might be surrounding veterans LeBron James and Anthony Davis with a youthful core that includes Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and Dennis Schröder.
It could mean an offseason of heavy lifting for Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. Hachimura, 25, has a player’s option for next season. Reaves, 24, Russell, 27, and Schröder, 29, are each eligible to become free agents on July 1. Each player indicated he would like to remain with the Lakers.
“Our intentions are to keep our core of young guys together,” Pelinka said during his season-ending session with reporters Tuesday. “And I think we saw incredible growth and achievement by Rui, Austin, I could go down the list, ‘Vando’ (Jarred Vanderbilt), D-Lo (Russell). We have a lot of great young players.
“We want to do our best to fit the puzzle together.”
Pelinka then singled out Reaves after a breakout season in which he upped his scoring average from 7.3 points in 23 minutes per game as a rookie to 13.0 points in nearly 29 minutes in 2022-23.
“I think he defines, really, what’s at the heart of playing for the Lakers,” Pelinka said of Reaves, one of the lowest-paid players in the league this past season. “He’s a selfless, team-first guy. He lives in the gym. He loves the big moment. He’s been able to meet the big moment.”
Reaves joked that a big raise from the $1.5 million he made during 2022-23 wouldn’t change him in the least. Golf and family would continue to be his top priorities in life, although perhaps not exactly in that order. He said he would likely buy a membership to a local club to enjoy his second-favorite game.
“That’s probably it, honestly,” he said. “I’m not really into cars. Fashion. Whatever my family needs, I’ll get it. Family is No. 1, golf is a close second. … Nah, I don’t see changes in me. I don’t see doing anything different. I kind of live my life the same as if I had ‘X’ amount of money or I didn’t. I still play video games and golf.”
SECOND TIME AROUND
Russell called his second stint with the Lakers a “complete success, honestly. It’s been a great time, a great experience,” after they re-acquired him in a multi-team, multi-player trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves before the NBA’s Feb. 9 deadline. He gave himself “a pat on the back” for fitting it so well.
Russell and Reaves formed the Lakers’ backcourt after the deadline, giving them a stable set of guards for their regular-season stretch run and for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Russell’s shooting touch then abandoned him during the Lakers’ loss to the Denver Nuggets in the conference finals.
“Just a complete success,” Russell said. “I really can’t complain about anything besides the ball (not) going in when I wanted it to. Other than that, I enjoyed my time. It was what it was. … We had some success when I first got here without having any offseason together, any time to just get things going.
“We just kind of figured it out on the fly.”
Of re-signing with the Lakers, he said, “We’ll see what opportunity presents itself.”
Schröder also played with the Lakers for a second time in his career this past season, and he said he would like to see the team stay intact for next season, the better to chase a championship. The players grew close in a short time after the roster overhaul before the trade deadline.
He said if he was Pelinka, he would do all he could to keep it together.
“It was very close to making it to the Finals and competing for the championship,” Schröder said. “So, of course, you’ve got to think about that. But, I mean, luckily, I’m not in this position to make that decision. He’s got to make the right decision for this organization, but I think he will and just go from there.”
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