Austin Reaves is playing himself into a lucrative contract this season. The undrafted guard is helping to keep the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoff hunt with LeBron James out with a foot injury, and he has earned many fans across the league ahead of his restricted free agency in July.
But the Lakers are unlikely to lose him this summer unless the franchise lets him go as an Arenas Rule restricted free agent. A competing franchise may make him an offer to put the Lakers to the test—or, at worst, make L.A. pay an inflated contract for the nearly 25-year-old guard.
Brief Primer on the Arenas Rule
Unofficially named after Gilbert Arenas, whom the Golden State Warriors drafted in the second round (No. 31) in 2001, the rule protects teams from losing their own restricted free agents.
Arenas signed a two-year deal as a rookie but quickly outplayed his contract. Because the Warriors only had his early Bird rights, the team didn't have the means to match an offer sheet from the Washington Wizards. Even though he was restricted, Golden State lost him in free agency.
The issue was rectified in the following collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Arenas Rule, limiting what another team can offer when a franchise only has non-Bird or "Early Bird" rights for its own restricted free agent.
In Reaves' case, the most another team can offer in starting salary is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which projects to be $11.4 million for 2023-24.
Via Reaves' Early Bird rights, Los Angeles would be able to start his next contract at roughly $11.9 million (TBD). The Warriors didn't have that option in 2003, but the Arenas Rule will protect the Lakers 20 years later.