In a league where conversations are increasingly dominated by numbers and analytics, there was a unique level of human and intangible joy in Malik Monk’s 2021-22 season with the Lakers.
Given a chance by a franchise with belief in him, Monk experienced a breakout season in the purple and gold, becoming one of the very few bright spots in a lost year. The opportunities existed in Charlotte, where Monk was drafted, but the belief in him waned, eventually dissipating to a level that led to him not even being extended a qualifying offer in free agency.
So on-court opportunities had existed for Monk before, but an on-and-off-court belief made the difference for him, more than any numbers or analytics would necessarily show. Because of that, during his exit interview on Monday, Monk expressed a desire to remain in Los Angeles despite being set for free agency this summer.
“Rob (Pelinka) and Frank (Vogel) were the first people to call me as soon as free agency hit,” Monk said, “and they told me this exact picture that happened this year for how they see me playing and it worked out perfect with that aspect, so I just thank those guys for that.
“I love being here, man. I love playing in this atmosphere and of course would love to come back and not do this again.”
The “not do this again” was in reference to losing, though the losses hardly ever fell at the feet of Monk. The 23-year-old averaged a career-high 13.8 points on a career-best field goal percentage of 47.3%. Monk was also given more freedom than he’d ever had before, playing nearly 1,000 more minutes this season than any other season in his career, and excelling with it.
The problem for the Lakers this summer is that they’re financially restricted and could struggle to match a competitive offer for Monk that would meet his market value after a breakout year. NBA executives expect him to get anywhere from $5-10 million, but ultimately all it takes is one team to exceed that and make it even tougher on the Lakers to compete financially without Monk’s Bird rights to allow them to go over the cap to re-sign him.
However, and perhaps fortunately for the Lakers, Monk isn’t entering free agency simply looking for the top offer.
“It’s really me being comfortable,” Monk said. “Feeling like (I am) at home, whether that’s here or somewhere else. With a little money or more money, it’s just really me feeling at home at the end of the day.
“I mean, the money matters, but I know what I can do on the court and I can go out there and earn that,” Monk continued. “I think I proved that, so it’s just me feeling at home and wanted.”
Monk was definitely wanted in Los Angeles this season, by his (now-former) coach, teammates like LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and general manager Rob Pelinka. Through his agent and brother Marcus, Malik has expressed a desire to “remain a Laker forever.”
Now, it seems the two sides can work on making this his home.