Take a deep breath, Lakers fans. I know all of this feels familiar. An undrafted guard has emerged as a key rotation player. He is thriving as the Lakers deal with major injuries elsewhere on the roster. His presence is keeping a potentially doomed season afloat. He's setting himself up for a major payday in the process. The Lakers lost Alex Caruso when this happened two years ago. Here's the good news: the Lakers can legally match any offer another team makes Austin Reaves as a restricted free agent this offseason. If they want to keep him, it will be well within their power to do so.

Until a few weeks ago, doing so seemed like it would be a relatively affordable endeavor. While the Lakers could've locked Reaves up for two more years at close to a minimum salary had they managed their cap sheet a bit more effectively in 2021, the advantage of letting him reach restricted free agency in 2023 was that it effectively capped what the Lakers could offer him at the maximum amount allowable by the Early Bird Rights they've gained by having him on the team for two years. As Spotrac's Keith Smith laid out in his excellent piece on Reaves' new contract, that worked out to roughly $51 million over four years. He would make roughly $14.1 million in the final year of such a contract, a figure that's probably lower than what he is worth now.

In other words, this would've been a bargain: a four-year commitment to an established 24-year-old with no significant history of injuries in a salary environment expected to see significant cap growth. No team is foolish enough to turn down that sort of opportunity. Not even the one that lost Caruso.

Of course, that relied on the idea that, from a value standpoint, Reaves was relatively similar to Caruso. They are very different players, but they represented similar things to the Lakers. For the most part, neither were particularly impressive box score players. Their impact was felt in advanced metrics and on-off numbers. Good things happened when Caruso and Reaves were on the floor. The progression felt somewhat similar: undrafted youngster grows into solid role player and earns solid role player money.