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Here’s what every Lakers free agent said about the future after exit interviews

Less than 24 hours after their season-ending Game 6 loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers conducted exit interviews with (almost) every player on the roster. Each player, plus head coach Frank Vogel and GM Rob Pelinka, then spoke to the media one last time before beginning their early yet overdue off-season.

(LeBron James and Kostas Antetokounmpo were not present, nor was Anthony Davis after doing two media Zooms on Thursday night. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope conducted his interview but did not do media availability.)

There were two main themes from exit interview day: The Lakers believe they had a championship-caliber roster when healthy, and they weren’t ready to think too much about the future, just yet.

“We feel like we have a team that can compete for a championship right now, as constructed,” Vogel said. “Does that mean we’ll be back the same? Who knows. That’s gonna be up to the front office to decide and where we end up landing with free agents and trades. But we believe in the group that we have. If we have the core of Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy, we’ll build the right supporting cast around those guys, and we’ll have a chance to compete for a championship next year.

“We believe in the group that we had this year and would love to have an opportunity to turn it back at full strength. But, obviously, there’s always going to be tweaks to the roster.”

Priority no. 1 this summer: recovery and recuperation for their two superstars.

“We have to pour all we can, resource-wise, into helping” James and Davis “return to 100%,” Pelinka said. “That’s gonna be a ton of our energy over the coming weeks.”

The Lakers front office also has a slew of major roster decisions to make. Barring any trades, the Lakers have five current players with a guaranteed contract for 2021-22: LeBron, AD, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Marc Gasol. Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million option that he’s expected to decline. Alfonzo McKinnie has a non-guaranteed $1.9 million salary on the books.

Vogel said the Lakers need to get their offense on par with their defense, which could fuel personnel moves. (BTW: Vogel’s contract situation came up, too. “Frank’s done an outstanding job as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers,” Pelinka said. “We see him as a strong part of our future for sure.”)

No matter how things shake out, the Lakers are facing a $100M+ luxury tax bill, which Jeanie Buss has said she’ll front in order to deliver banner no. 18.

“Jeanie and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing, and that’s to smartly build a roster to win championships,” Pelinka said. “That’s been the hallmark of this team since Dr. Buss acquired it and continues to be today. Clearly, all 30 NBA teams are confined by a salary cap so we’ve gotta be really smart with how we put all the different puzzle pieces together. But there is only one goal.”

“We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring banner no. 18 here,” he added (lustfully).

All that in mind, here’s what each Lakers’ impending free agent said on Friday about their interest (or lack thereof) in running it back with Los Angeles.

Dennis Schroder

Schroder has repeatedly stated his appreciation for the Lakers organization. For weeks, he has spoken as if he’s definitely coming back. Yet, he also turned down a handsome extension, which led him to be dangled in trade talks. He has also never hidden his desire to explore unrestricted free agency. (It’s been a saga of subtext.)

It was more of the same on Friday. Here are some responses from his media session (in chronological order):

  • “Me and Rob had close contact throughout the whole season…It was just a great experience for me to be here. Y’all know what comes next: It’s unfished business.”

  • “I think it was a ‘get used to it’ season. Playing with the top two players in the league, you gotta adjust a little bit…Hopefully, next year, imma come out and be comfortable…and just play my game. That’s what they want me to do.”

Schroder then tried to dispel the unfounded speculation that he rejected the extension after he was included in trade talks. (The situation was vice-versa, and nobody thought otherwise.)

  • “I didn’t decline the extension because I was in trade talks. I own a team in Germany. I try to run my organization in Germany as fair as possible, but end of the day, it’s still business. I want to do what’s best for the team, but I’m still caring about my players. That’s what Rob did…I would listen to offers as well. You don’t know what you can get…I’m a guy who does a lot of business on the side as well, so I understand that. There’s no bad feelings. That wasn’t the reason why that I declined the option…It was because I wanted to feel after eight years I wanted to decide where I wanted to go and where I wanted to sign.”
  • He said the Lakers’ adversity this season “is always great for a good ballclub and a good organization. Everybody tightens up, and we come back next season and be ready to go.”
  • “One of the genes in a player that we value so much…is just the competitive nature,” Pelinka said. “He is an extreme competitor. We value those qualities in him. August is August and free agency is a couple months away and there’s a lot of different things we’ll have to evaluate there, but Dennis is an attractive player to us just because of what he brings to the table.”

As with all things Dennis: make of that what you will.

Montrezl Harrell

Harrell is expected to pursue multi-year offers, though his value was complicated by the crowded Lakers’ center rotation which shifted his role throughout the season.

“At the end of the day, you’re auditioning for every team in this league.”

 

Pelinka praised Harrell’s “passion” and “intensity” all season, though steered clear of mentioning his free agency.

Ben McLemore

McLemore, 28, shot 36.8% from deep in 21 appearances after being signed off the buyout market in April.

On his prospects with the Lakers: “We’ll see. It’s a business. We’ll see how things go. My time here was amazing. I appreciate Rob and Frank giving me the opportunity to be on this great, big platform with the Lakers and play with this great group of guys. It was amazing.”

He also expressed appreciation for how LeBron made him comfortable via handshake.

Talen Horton-Tucker

Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent. He can’t be offered more than the mid-level exception, though bidding teams can back-load the deal up to four years, $60 million.

After a breakout age-20 season (16.2 points per 36), Horton-Tucker is the Lakers’ best player under the age of 25. He was the sticking point in the Kyle Lowry talks, which signaled that the Lakers are committed to him long-term.

“I haven’t really thought about it as much cause it was during the season so I really wasn’t trying to give it too much train of thought,” THT said about his free agency. “But I appreciate the opportunity that I’ve had here. I just want to let my representation handle all that. I feel like they’ll steer me in the right direction, wherever it is.”

(Horton-Tucker is represented by Klutch Sports.)

Alex Caruso

Caruso, at 27, is facing unrestricted free agency and should have no shortage of suitors on the market, as was the case at the trade deadline. According to The Los Angeles Times, NBA execs expect Caruso to fetch $5 to $7 million annually over three years.

Caruso acknowledged that the presence of Davis and LeBron — with whom he shares distinct chemistry — will factor into his interest in re-signing.

He also acknowledged the off-court advantages of playing for the Lakers.

“I’m a realistic human being. I understand different things happen in L.A. for certain reasons. Forever grateful for that. We’ll see where everything lies…That’s obviously not something I’ve thought about in-depth 12 hours after the season ended. I’ll look more into that in July. Those are definitely things that L.A. takes into consideration maybe more so than other places.”

For now, he’s looking forward to enjoying a summer off without fretting over his place in the Association.

“There’s a lot of things I’ll sit down and think about and plan out, including what my offseason looks like as far as working out and getting stuff done, and real-world goals are things that I finally have a chance to do now that I have a real offseason,” he said. “I’m not scrapping for a job wondering where I’m gonna play.”

Pelinka included THT and Caruso as home-grown products around whom the Lakers want to continue building

“In terms of free agency, we feel like we have a core group of players that can do special things…The goal is to try to keep that core group together. With players like Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma — players that you draft or bring into your two-way system and groom and develop — there’s a level of pride in that…So of course our intentions would be to keep our core together.”

Andre Drummond

Since Los Angeles signed Drummond, Vogel has stated a desire to work with the center beyond this season. Drummond’s two months with the Lakers didn’t go as planned for either side, but that may render him cheaper to re-sign.

On Friday, Drummond initially hinted that he’s expecting to return.

“I had an incredible time in the short stint I was here. Looking forward to building more with them.”

After being asked if that means he’s coming back, Drummond quickly revised his remark.

“‘Looking forward to,'” he clarified. “August is right around the corner, when the time comes to have those discussions, I’ll have those discussions…Season just ended last night. So this is something that I have time to think about right now. Right now my focus is just on spending time with my kids and decompressing from this long year that I had, and I’ll re-focus on that when the time is right.”

Vogel repeated his feelings on the Big Penguin: “Dre was great for us…We’re hopeful that he’s a Laker for a long time.”

Pelinka was equally complimentary but less committal:  “Andre Drummond is a great young player. Obviously, he’s a couple years removed from being an All-Star. I had the privilege of representing him as his agent for a number of years and knew what he stood for, knew his character, knew his commitment to being a team player and putting the team first…Really appreciate him choosing the Lakers and the contributions he made for us.”

Wesley Matthews

Matthews took accountability for his inconsistent play, though he believes AD and LeBron felt more “comfortable” with him by the end of the season.

“There’s no question in my mind in my heart that I want to run it back,” Matthews said. “There’s no doubt that I want to run it back.”

Pelinka didn’t address Matthews specifically, but he did say that shooting will be a point of emphasis for the Lakers this offseason. “You can never have enough shooting. So it’s something that’s always at the top of our mind when we’re building and constructing a roster.” (He added that “the success of our shooting is driven by (AD and LeBron) creating the space,” and “some of that space a was altered” due to their injuries.)

Markieff Morris

Morris, 31, didn’t hide his preference to re-up in Los Angeles.

“Bron coming back next year, of course, there’s nowhere else I would rather be. I feel like this is home for me. This is definitely where I wanna be. I think we got a good shot of running it back next year. I think I will be here. I think if everything lines up the way it’s supposed to, I’ll be back next year.”

Devontae Cacok

The 24-year old played 20 games in his second season with the Lakers. He said he was “grateful for all his experiences” and “gained so much knowledge” from his Lakers teammates the last two years, which helped him “become a better player.”

And, finally, Jared Dudley:

Free agents can begin negotiating with teams on Aug. 2 and signing on Aug. 6.