Dennis Schroder and Andre Drummond have the same two items on their agenda: help the Los Angeles Lakers win the 2020-21 NBA championship, then get paid in free agency. Three games into the Lakers' first-round series vs. the Phoenix Suns, we've seen what Schroder and Drummond can do to achieve both, which, ironically, jeopardizes their futures in purple-and-gold.
Schroder's contract situation has been a tension bubbling under the surface during his first season with the Lakers. In February or March, he rejected a four-year, $84 million extension. The 27-year old guard (who bought a home in Los Angeles) has consistently praised the organization and expressed a desire to stay, yet also explore unrestricted free agency to seek a “fair” contract with a big-market franchise. Schroder considers that upwards of $100 million, or “top-tier” guard money. Oof.
Things have been up and down for Schroder since he declined the deal. The Lakers nearly traded him for Kyle Lowry. He played very good basketball as LeBron James was sidelined. He entered the health and protocols at the worst time, which, by his own admission, compromised his conditioning. He said some weird stuff about COVID-19. Reports of unhappiness surfaced.
In 61 games in 2020-21, Schroder averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals on .437/.335/.848 shooting splits. In 21 games while LeBron was out, he upped his play-making and “floor general” game (7.8 APG). The Lakers appreciate his motor and competitiveness. Generally speaking, he's had a satisfactory season.
In the play-in game, Schroder was cooked by the Chef and replaced in crunch-time for Alex Caruso after forcing a couple of bad shots. In Game 1 vs. Phoenix, he had more turnovers (four) than assists (three). There were not-insane calls for Caruso to take over as the Lakers lead guard — perhaps into next season.
Ahead of Game 2, Frank Vogel didn't hide his concern for Schroder's form.
“I don’t feel like the bout with health and safety protocols and the absence that he had is fully behind him,” Vogel said. “I do not feel that…That’s one of the challenges that we have to push through that in a very difficult playoff environment.”
“Dennis was in attack mode from the very beginning,” LeBron said. “He lived in the paint, and when they sagged off, he hit shots from the perimeter, as well from the three and from the mid-range. But he just stayed in attack mode.”
In Game 3, Schroder was excellent, once again. He dropped 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting. In the final three minutes, his timely back-to-back buckets quieted the Suns' last-gasp run.
Los Angeles wore down the Suns physically and spiritually, especially inside, and Schroder's peskiness had a lot to do with that. Those efforts culminated in Devin Booker dangerously taking his frustration out on the Lakers guard. Aptly, Schroder responded with push-ups.
Can't skip arm day 💪
— FanSided (@FanSided) May 28, 2021
Likewise, Drummond optimally chose Game 2 to have his best game with the Lakers: 15 points (7-of-11 FG), 12 rebounds, two steals. Playing as under-the-microscope as any nonstar in basketball — Drum Dog Millionaire ideally imposed his might on both ends.
“This was Drum’s most impactful game,” Vogel said. “We needed it.”
In Game 3, Drummond was active, quick, and big on defense and on the glass, pulling down 11 rebounds in 20 minutes.
Notice the difference for the Lakers defense. Suns ate on this handoff for Booker in G1. Schroder fights to keep Booker on the same side taking away the roll to the empty corner. Drummond in a drop, AD/Schroder both contesting on pull. Good battle by Ayton on the glass. pic.twitter.com/KqmdL4aBAO
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) May 28, 2021
Can't decide what's better:
🔥 LeBron James' moves
🤣 Andre Drummond's impersonations of LeBronpic.twitter.com/mcmhKCU9sa
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 28, 2021
The Lakers have turned the tables on the Suns for two main reasons: LeBron James and Anthony Davis flipped the switch, and they've become the more physical team. Arguably, Drummond and Schroder have had as much of a hand in that as anyone.
This summer, the Lakers are facing a historically steep luxury tax bill. Talen Horton-Tucker has a chance at Guy Fieri money. They want to re-sign Caruso. Kyle Kuzma’s extension kicks in. Between LeBron and AD's money and various cap holds, the Lakers will be over the tax before they can consider re-upping Schroder, Drummond, Harrell, Markieff Morris, or Wesley Matthews.
Assuming Drummond would prefer to seek a deal in the $15 million-plus range, his future prospects in Los Angeles look bleak. For cap reasons, the Lakers won't be able to offer him more than the veteran's minimum exception unless they trade Kuzma or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Until then, the best thing Drummond can do is repeat efforts like Game 2 and 3, which benefit both his stock price and the Lakers' title chances.
Drummond SWATS Booker 😨 pic.twitter.com/N1Dz4GUdM4
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 28, 2021
As for Schroder, let's say he'd be satisfied with $23-25 million annually. Here are the point guards set to earn more money than that in 2021-22, along with their age, 2020-21 PPG and Win Shares per 48, plus career playoff Box Plus-Minus compared with Schroder (excluding Steph and Kyrie Irving, who exist in a different galaxy, and John Wall's $44 million deal, which is its own unique monstrosity).
- Jrue Holiday, age 30 ($30M in 2021-22): 17.7 PPG, .165 WS/48, 4.6 Playoff BPM
- Jamal Murray, 24 ($29.4M): 21.2 PPG, .129 WS/48, 4.7 Playoff BPM
- D'Angelo Russell, 25 ($30M): 19.0 PPG, .063 WS/48, -3.1 Playoff BPM
- Kemba Walker, 31 ($36M): 19.3 PPG, .115 WS/48, 4.5 Playoff BPM
- Schroder, 27: 15.4 PPG, .093 WS/48, 1.2 Playoff BPM
Schroder falls somewhere in the middle. He's nowhere near as good as Holiday or Murray. He was not on Walker's level when Kemba secured his bag — and the way that contract is aging won't help Schroder's cause. D'Angelo Russell looks like an outlier coming off a miserable 2020-21 campaign, though he received his extension following a superb All-Star season (21.1 PPG, 7.0 APG) at age 23.
A better comp is Fred VanVleet. In the 2019 postseason, the Toronto Raptors guard proved he can be a steady scorer on a championship team (14.0 PPG in the Finals) and maximized his market value. He re-signed for $21.3 AAV.
28-year old Malcolm Brogdon — 21.2 PPG, 5.9 assists, 5.3 rebounds this season — makes $20.7.
Schroder may not get the $100 million or “top-tier” guard money he seeks. But, if he keeps playing like he has post-Game 1 — as a forceful playoff game-changer — he'll increase the likelihood that a team with cap space and in need of a lead guard (ahem, the New York Knicks) will overpay for his services in the future. It's also precisely what the Lakers need from him in the present.
“Jared Dudley always comes to me and says, ‘Listen. You're the guy,'” Schroder said in April. “LeBron's going to do his thing. AD's going to do his thing…But when it comes to [being a] floor general, get a bucket if we need to, hold it down when LeBron is not on the floor, whatever it is, I try to help my team with that.
“I'm ready whatever comes. I'll take the challenge. I try to get to that ultimate goal.”
Schroder and Drummond — and how their free agency may consciously or subconsciously affect their play — presents the great irony of the Lakers' repeat quest. They will almost certainly need Schroder, and most likely Drummond, to not just excel, but excel within particular roles in order to raise banner no. 18. After a sluggish Game 1 (for the whole team), Schroder and Drummond have seemed as committed to doing that — and nothing more — as anyone. (Drummond has been a +17 over the past two games. Schroder has been a +22.)
If they continue to do so and prove their championship mettle, they may assure themselves too hefty a price tag for Jeanie Buss, despite her promise to front any bill to maintain a roster of winners.
For now, Drummond, Schroder, and the Lakers must compartmentalize. Win a ring, then worry about the money.