Austin Reaves has become one of the Los Angeles Lakers’ most important players, and the 25-year-old recalled when he knew he ultimately had the trust of superstar teammate LeBron James.
“There was no real conversation off the court or anything,” Reaves said. “I always knew that we from day one, we connected on that IQ level just thinking the game differently than other people do.
“But the one that stood out to me — it was in the playoffs, was Game 1 against Memphis — when I had to really go four quarter. I struggled the first half, I think I was 2-for-7 at half from the field and then got it goin’ in the fourth. And I remember, I think I got two buckets in a row, and someone, I think [Desmond] Bane might’ve shot a wing 3 on the right side, and it come off, and I don’t know if D’Lo (D’Angelo Russell) got the rebound or who or Vando (Jarred Vanderbilt) got the rebound. But I was on the left side, and I just went to run the floor. They outlet it to Bron and — this was right before I hit the 3 I think — and me goin’ to run the floor, I hear Bron yelling at me like, ‘A.R., come back!’ And he just tosses me the ball. And I’m like, ‘Oh s—.’
“I have the greatest, you know in my opinion the greatest player ever, I don’t want to say deferring to me in this moment, but like giving me the ball, like, ‘Okay, you got something goin’, go do somethin’.
“‘Cause he knows me, I don’t care about, if I go score, if I may get a play for someone else. He knows I just wanna win. But when that happened, obviously in my brain, there’s — it probably should have went somewhere else. But the whole time I was just sitting there thinking like, ‘I can’t screw this — I gotta make something good happen. I don’t care if it’s a missed shot, whatever. We get a good shot, whatever. But somethin’ good’s gotta happen. I can’t turn it over, can’t shoot a bad shot.’ But I think I come down and hit the 3, and after that, same thing, gave me the ball again.
“And from that point forward, I could tell the trust level was even more than what I knew it was at that point.”
Reaves was referring to last season’s first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, which the Lakers won in six games. The University of Oklahoma product became an emerging star during the playoffs, helping Los Angeles get past Memphis and to a series win against the Golden State Warriors before being swept by the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 Western Conference Finals.
He averaged 16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in 16 playoff contests while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from 3-point range.
A return trip to the postseason and another long playoff run seems to be well within reach this season after the Lakers had a very successful offseason that included re-signing Reaves to a four-year, $56 million contract as a restricted free agent. They also re-signed Russell and Rui Hachimura while adding Gabe Vincent, Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince, Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood to returning veteran stars James and Anthony Davis.
Reaves this offseason continued to make a name for himself by excelling for Team USA at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, leading to one prominent Laker to refer to him as a “freaking monster.” Playing as a reserve, he averaged 13.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in eight tournament contests for the U.S. team, which placed fourth.
With the expectation of an even bigger role with the Lakers during the 2023-24 NBA season, Reaves reportedly has been working closely with their strength and conditioning team. He has said his primary goal is to bring a championship back to Los Angeles after falling short of that goal last season.
Having the support and trust of one of the greatest players of all time should give Reaves the confidence he needs to handle additional on-court duties and help his teammates aim for that ultimate goal of an NBA title.