Dennis Schröder bet on himself this summer and he ended up in Boston on a $5.9 million contract, not quite the deal he was looking for in free agency.
Schröder believed he was one of the league’s elite point guards and a full season with the Los Angeles Lakers, playing on the biggest stage with the league’s greatest player — LeBron James — would boost his free-agent value.
Two things happened: The Lakers were besieged with injuries, and Schröder didn’t have a good season and in some eyes in the organization was blamed partially for their first-round elimination. An $84 million offer the Lakers floated to Schröder in the offseason was scrapped and they pursued Russell Westbrook instead.
Schröder was ridiculed on social media and in NBA circles for rejecting that $84 million deal and betting on an uncertain free-agent market for point guards. That is usually the first position elite teams address because it is so critical and Schröder believed he was at least on the level of Lonzo Ball, who earned an $80 million deal with the Chicago Bulls.
That didn’t happen. Monies dried up. Salary caps were maxed and Schröder was left looking for work. The Celtics scooped up the biggest bargain in free agency, a solid point guard with something to prove; a mercurial personality with the attitude and bravado to take the team to another level.
Schröder will wear No. 71 for the Celtics, the first player ever to don that number and perhaps for the number of millions he missed out on because of his misfortune. What’s done is done. Schröder was not the first free agent to get lost in the craziness of that first 48-hour period when billions are spent — many of those eventually result in buyer’s remorse — but it’s to the Celtics’ benefit to have a player with versatility.
He attempted to explain the issue with the Lakers. Schröder said the club never stuck a four-year, $84 million contract in his face during the season and implored him to sign. What’s more, he said the Lakers told him they did not want to negotiate during the season, but that $84 million package was a possibility in free agency.
Schröder did not have a good first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers believed they needed more of a distributor, and Westbrook nudged his buddy LeBron and worked to facilitate a trade from the Wizards to the Lakers.
“I never had that contract in front of me, that’s one thing,” he said. “They wanted to talk and me and my agent decided not to sign that contract. I feel like for me, personally, I’ve got to be comfortable in the environment that I’m in. I love the Lakers organization and they did great things but I think for me, it’s just business but I don’t think I fitted in 100 percent.
“You play with LeBron and AD [Anthony Davis] and those are two of the best players in the NBA and I don’t think I gave them everything and what I bring to the table.”
Don’t feel bad for Schröder, he said. He signed a four-year, $60 million extension with the Atlanta Hawks in 2017 and has earned more than $70 million in his career.
“My family and myself, we’re going to be good,” he said. “I’m 28 years old and I’m going to still play in the NBA for a long time. Money is not everything at all times. I want to be comfortable in a situation where I know people appreciate me and all this stuff happened, you’ve got to look forward and try to show people what you’re capable of and everything will come back.”
Schröder started all 61 games with the Lakers last season but he came off the bench in his previous season — with the Oklahoma City Thunder — where he finished second for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
“It’s a great environment to play in and whatever role I’m in, I’m ready to compete and win some games,” he said. “I’ve been doing it my whole career.”
When Schröder was deliberating whether to accept the Celtics’ mid-level exception offer and finally admit he had been squeezed out of the market, he received texts and calls from former Atlanta teammate Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, coach Ime Udoka and team president Brad Stevens. The Celtics never believed they would be in the Schröder sweepstakes but were going to capitalize on his availability.
“They showed they really, really wanted me here,” he said. “That was a great sign for me and that was the reason why I decided to come to Boston. I know when I come here, Al Horford got the locker room under control. I’m excited to play with Marcus [Smart], Jaylen Brown, Tatum and all those other guys. It’s a winning mentality and for me it’s the right move to make.”
It’s a one-year deal and the Celtics wouldn’t budge beyond that because they want to pursue a maximum contract player next summer. Schröder wants to convince the organization, the NBA and — more importantly — himself he’s worthy of a long-term lucrative contract, that he’s an elite team’s backcourt answer. The proving ground starts today.