Coming into this year’s free agency period armed with just a few veteran’s minimum contracts and the taxpayer mid-level exception, the Lakers had few major moves they could even make. However, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, they’ve made their biggest one by signing Lonnie Walker IV to their full TPMLE for a one-year deal worth $6.5 million.
In the 2021-22 season, Walker averaged 12.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists while coming off the bench in 64 of his 70 games played.
The Lakers were able to sign Walker after the Spurs revoked his qualifying offer just hours before free agency started, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Darvin Ham has stated a desire for the team to get younger and more athletic, and in the 23-year-old Lonnie Walker IV, they did just that. Although his elite athleticism portends significant upside, he’s not necessarily a perfect example of the archetypical “3-and-D” wing that the Lakers were reportedly hoping to get. Brutally, his D-LEBRON (B-Ball Index’s defensive impact metric) last season ranked in the league’s 3rd percentile last season while he shot a below league average 31.4% on 5.0 3-point attempts per game.
He’s not particularly tall either, at just 6’4,” though his 6’10’’ wingspan does help make up for that lack of raw height. Hopefully, Ham and assistant coach Phil Handy can deploy his physicality on defense more successfully than the Spurs did.
We’ll have to wait and see whether the Lakers can help Walker reach his potential, but on just a one-year deal, both sides would likely hope that growth can happen sooner than later, given the franchise’s imperative of winning within LeBron’s closing window of contention.
Having used their lone taxpayer mid-level exception on him, the Lakers will likely miss out on the opportunity to sign any of the more polished wings they were linked to before free agency began. Also, as explained by NBA salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan, using the full TPMLE on Walker pushes the Lakers $20 million into the tax and prevents them from paying their second-round draft pick Max Christie anything more than a minimum contract.
With Walker getting the full MLE, that would limit second-round pick Max Christie to getting a 2-year minimum deal. Lakers only have minimum contracts to offer for their remaining roster spots. https://t.co/jG6yxUASyU
— Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan) June 30, 2022
Still, Lonnie Walker IV’s best-case scenario could end up being one of the best in this class within the Lakers’ budget.