Ramon Sessions to test market
Sessions chose against exercising the final year of his contract to stay with the Lakers next season and will explore the free-agency market, his agent said Tuesday.
"Ramon has carefully considered this decision," said Sessions' agent, Jared Karnes, in a statement. "He had to make a career decision and ultimately decided to do what was best in providing stability and longevity for him in the NBA, and this could only be achieved through a multiyear contract."
The Lakers were prepared for Sessions' decision, but had hoped they could retain him and see what he could bring during a full season as the starting point guard before making a decision on an extended contract offer.
"I would have preferred that he would have exercised his option to extend and would have been with us for another year," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "Only because he is a young player that's going to get better."
Sessions, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard, averaged 12.7 points, 6.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds on 47.9 percent shooting from the field and 48.6 percent shooting on 3-pointers in 23 regular-season games with the Lakers. Sessions' numbers plummeted in the playoffs, however, as he averaged just 6.8 points and 3.0 assists while shooting 35.3 percent in the Western Conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was his first trip to the postseason in his five-year career after starting with cellar-dwelling teams in Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cleveland.
"He would admit that he wasn't really familiar with playoff intensity," Kupchak said.
Despite his postseason struggles, Kupchak still had a positive overall assessment of Sessions' short time with the team.
"He's an incredible athlete," Kupchak said. "He thinks the game. He understands the game. He's great in the locker room. He likes to work. He wants to improve."
Sessions would have made $4.55 million next season had he opted into the final year remaining on his contract. Free agency begins July 1.
"Beginning on July 1st, it takes one team to make him an offer that perhaps we couldn't or would not match," Kupchak said. "There's a market value and then there's always a team that will do something way beyond the market value."
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The Lakers already have approximately $80 million committed to eight players for next season, a figure that already exceeds the yet-to-be-determined 2012-13 luxury tax threshold that will be no less than $70.37 million. Despite already being deep into the luxury tax with five more players yet to sign to reach the minimum roster requirement of 13, the Lakers do retain Sessions' Bird rights, which allow them to make an offer to Sessions that's worth more than just the league minimum.
Steve Blake, who has two years remaining on his deal paying him $4 million annually, is the only Lakers point guard under contract. The Lakers also have to make a decision on Darius Morris, who played sparingly at point guard in his rookie season, and choose whether to exercise their team option on him by June 30 for next season or allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Should Sessions sign with another team, the Lakers have limited options available to them in terms of luring another free agent to take his place. Because of their luxury tax situation, they only have the mini-mid-level exception available to them, worth about $3 million a year over the course of a two-year deal. They can also try to acquire a point guard via trade, with big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum being their main trade chips at the moment.
Some of the unrestricted free agent point guards that could be available for the mini-mid-level exception include Portland's Raymond Felton and Atlanta's Kirk Hinrich. Restricted free agent Aaron Brooks (Phoenix) could be another option.
"Beginning today, we have to plan for the contingency that (Sessions) won't be available as a free agent on a later date in July," Kupchak said. "We have to make sure that we have backup plans in place."
Despite the financial commitment the Lakers will need to make to retain him, Sessions said last month that the team was unwavering in its interest in keeping him wearing purple and gold.
"It was definitely clear leaving the meeting they want me back," Sessions told reporters after his exit interview with Kupchak and Lakers coach Mike Brown in May. "It was definitely 100 percent clear."
Added Kupchak: "He did indicate that he was happy here in Los Angeles and he would love to return. But once again, once the market comes into play, we don't know what will happen."