Earlier this season, the Los Angeles Lakers reportedly offered point guard Dennis Schroder the biggest contract extension they legally could: a four-year, $84 million pact that would have kept him in Los Angeles through 2025. He declined that offer and is now bound for unrestricted free agency. What he’ll actually receive when he gets there is unknowable, but we can surmise based on that rejection that he at least expects to receive a more lucrative offer, even if that isn’t realistic.
The question that expectation raises is who would give it to him? A team would need at least $20 million in cap space to sign Schroder to a bigger deal, and there aren’t many teams with that much flexibility. Eight teams are in a position to have something resembling max cap space this offseason, and it’s hard to find an ideal fit for Schroder.
- Schroder’s former team, the Thunder, will have max space, but if they wanted to keep him for the long-term, they likely never would have traded him.
- The Raptors (Fred VanVleet), Spurs (DeJounte Murray), Hornets (LaMelo Ball), Grizzlies (Ja Morant) and Mavericks (Luka Doncic) have all recently made a large investment at the point guard position through either a big contract or premium draft capital. They theoretically could pursue another one, but as that player would be playing off of the ball much of the time, they’d likely want that player to be a good shooter. Schroder is not.
- The Miami Heat do need a point guard but have widely been linked to Kyle Lowry. If they don’t pursue him, it will likely be because they decided to occupy their cap space with the Bird Rights to their own free agents (notably, Victor Oladipo and Goran Dragic).
That leaves only one team likely to have the cap space to pursue Schroder outright: the New York Knicks. On paper, the fit is clear. The Knicks have arguably the worst starting point guard in the NBA in Elfrid Payton. Their veteran backup, Derrick Rose, will be a free agent after the season. Schroder would provide sorely needed ball-handling and scoring. His poor shooting would concern some coaches, but if history is any indication, it won’t bother Tom Thibodeau, who will love his high-energy defense.
So will the Knicks pursue Schroder? SNY’s Ian Begley is not certain. He reports that while there are members of the front office that are interested and he will be an option, they likely wouldn’t want to get into a bidding war for Schroder’s services. That is almost certainly what would happen if they pursued him. The Lakers may be limited to an $84 million offer right now through the CBA’s extend-and-trade limitations, they will have full Bird Rights this offseason and can therefore offer him anything up to his max at that point. They will be a luxury tax team with or without him, so they’d have no means of replacing him if he left. Prying Schroder away from the Lakers would not be cheap.
That doesn’t mean that he is definitively staying. It just means that the Lakers have a bit more control over the process than it might appear. If there isn’t an obvious cap space destination, Schroder would need the Lakers to cooperate on a sign-and-trade if he wants to leave the team. That would allow the Lakers to get assets back in return if he leaves. They could even theoretically go that route if Schroder does go to a team with the cap space to sign him outright by offering a draft pick or two. That is what Boston did with Gordon Hayward, and it allowed them to create a trade exception big enough to absorb Evan Fournier. In this situation, the Lakers could use their Bird Rights to threaten opposing teams into cooperation. After all, they can outbid any other team.
But at present, it isn’t clear that they’ll need to. Quite a bit can change between now and free agency, but right now, there isn’t an obvious external threat to the Lakers for his services. For all we know, he won’t need one. Perhaps he’s banking on a strong playoff run leading to a heftier offer from the Lakers. Right now, that looks like his best chance at exceeding the $84 million he turned down. The Knicks will likely be an option when free agency arrives, but at the moment, there isn’t much reason to believe they’re willing to outbid the Lakers.