It’s no surprise to Kentucky fans that Malik Monk is on a hot streak right now for the Los Angeles Lakers. We’ve known he's a baller since he dropped 47 points on North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic in 2016.
The 23-year-old guard from Jonesboro, Arkansas has been averaging 22.2 PPG and shooting 49% from beyond the arc since entering the starting lineup (6 games). It feels like Malik has found a home with the Lakers. But his performance has created a new problem: the Lakers may not be able to afford him next year.
After one year at Kentucky, the Charlotte Hornets drafted Malik Monk in the 11th pick of the 2017 draft. Over his first four seasons, Monk came off the bench as a solid contributor, averaging 9.1 points, 2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, but still had not become the player many expected him to be.
This past summer, the Hornets declined to extend Monk, making him an unrestricted free agent. Following a recent practice, Monk revealed to Lakers Nation that no teams expressed interest in him during his free agency… except the Lakers.
”Some days I didn’t know what to think… it was hard for me.”
Luckily, LeBron James saw potential in Monk, urging Lakers staff to bring him onto the team.
”Me and… [former assistant coach Jason Kidd] would talk all the time like, ‘Is there a way we can snatch this guy from [the Hornets’] roster?’” LeBron said in a recent press conference.
The Lakers signed Monk to a 1-year deal for $1.78 million. And just halfway through the season, Malik looks like a whole new player, prompting many fans to joke on social media that the Hornets misused him (much to LeBron's amusement).
Monk is now outperforming what the Lakers are paying him, and deserves a big raise in the off-season. If Monk continues his hot streak, the Lakers will not have enough cap space to pay him what he's worth, and other teams could swoop in and make a better offer. With Malik carving out a role on the team and gelling with his veteran teammates, it would be a shame for the Lakers to lose him after only one year. So what can they do?
There are a couple options for the Lakers to extend Monk. One is for the Lakers to use the remaining cap space to keep Monk for one more year, still underpaid, with the intention of offering him a better contract going forward. After next year, Russell Westbrook's contract expires, which would free up cap space for Monk and other players. Alternately, if the Lakers wanted to keep Westbrook, Monk would at that point qualify for an "Early Bird" contract that would allow the Lakers to pay him significantly more, regardless of cap space.
Another option would be for the Lakers to clear cap space after this season. But over $120 million in cap space is taken up by just three players: LeBron, AD, and Russ. Most other players on the rosters are signed for the veteran minimum. The likely choice in this scenario would be to get rid of Westbrook, who many Lakers fans do not believe is worth his $44 million salary.
For now, we'll have to see how the rest of the season plays out for Monk. Either way, the Lakers staff and Monk will likely have some tough decisions to make this summer. Whether the Lakers can find a way to keep him, or he goes somewhere else, his future in the league is looking very bright.