In the weeks after undrafted free agent Austin Reaves signed a guaranteed two-year contract with the L.A. Lakers, the team’s fans struggled to process the news. The Lakers had no picks in the 2021 draft, and Reaves, a gangly guard from Newark, Arkansas (population 1,200) was a quiet addition. He signed a two-way contract to play with the Lakers and their G-League affiliate, but before stepping onto the court, Reaves earned a full-time roster spot on last season’s team on the back of a strong pre-season workout alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the team.
The 24-year-old played college ball at Wichita State and Oklahoma. While both have strong basketball programs, they aren’t broadcast on television—unless, of course, a team has an undefeated season on the line or if the Oklahoma Sooners’ Trae Young is dropping daily bombs from 35 feet. In such an information vacuum, a Lakers fan could only ponder who the heck this kid is and if he can handle the limelight of this massive stage; also: can he hold his own in a locker room with five, maybe six, future hall of farmers?
To answer that question, fans turned to our era’s seminal work of art on too-close-for-comfort workplace dynamics: HBOMax’s award-winning series, Succession.
“Austin Reaves looks like Cousin Greg running around out there. I love it so much,” tweeted one fan. “Austin Reaves aka Cousin Greg aka AR-15 aka Young Choppa aka HBK,” pontificated another.
The comparison is apt. Both men are tall, skinny and moppy-haired. On Succession, Cousin Greg appeared among the sharks of family conglomerate Waystar Royco without a clue about backstabbing, politicking, or even how to dress in an office. With Reaves’ small-town background, aw-shucks smile, penchant for wearing sweats in the evermore fashion-conscious NBA and relative unimportance compared to his NBA teammates, fans felt “the chaotic energy of Cousin Greg” emanating off the Lakers’ #15.
The only hitch in this fanfiction is that Reaves has never heard of Cousin Greg or even watched an episode of the Emmy’s reigning Best Drama winner (like most people). “I might have to now,” he tells LAMag, laughing.
If Reaves’ first season-and-a-half in the pro league is any indication, the comparison only goes as far as their physical similarities. Where Cousin Greg eases into the unceasing politicking, Reaves has understood the games he’s playing since day one, and his big-name teammates have only helped him sharpen his understanding of what it takes to have longevity in the world’s greatest basketball league.
Reaves explained that when you’ve “got the blueprint sitting across the locker room from you” in LeBron, it’s impossible to be unaware of the business of playing in the NBA, the ways players wield power within an organization, a league, a city, and, in rare cases like LeBron, a country.
Since Reaves made a strong impression on The King at the 2021 summer workouts, the two have developed a tight relationship, with the legendary player citing Reaves’ knack for taking charges, making extra passes (and cutting in ways that complement those of his teammates). But one can’t help but wonder if the man who orchestrated The Decision, multiple coach firings, and countless win-now trades sees a kindred spirit.
The Kid From Akron has attracted players who know their worth in the association, and Reaves is the player who bucked convention, telling multiple NBA teams not to draft him because he preferred the on-court fit and route to playing time as a key creator and shooter for the Lakers.
“First and foremost,” Reaves explains to LAMag, “[the NBA] is a business.”
On the court, he knows what he’s doing. Lakers Coach Darvin Ham is Reaves’ fourth since high school to give him significant playing time. This is because of what he calls “the IQ part of the game.”
“I can do a little bit of everything,” Reaves explains. “It was always different in all those teams, but I was always able to figure out what I can do to help the team.”
What Reaves can do, it turns out, is make headline news on the court. He’s hit crucial game-winning shots—most recently in December against the Detroit Pistons and most notably last season against the Dallas Mavericks. And he’s logged over 30 of the Lakers’ most efficient minutes per game in just his second season.
However, just as the Lakers were hitting their stride this season, Reaves strained his left hamstring, which sidelined him for a month. Now, with his return imminent, he’s focused on helping the Lakers in their playoff push. Always a step ahead with the game theory, he considered the way his opponents see him and the Lakers. “I don’t think many teams would want to see [us] in a seven-game series,” he says. And a key to that will be Reaves’ health (alongside, of course, the health of LeBron and Davis and other teammates).
Reaves’ importance to the Lakers’ playoff hopes is emblematic of the trust he’s earned with his coaches and teammates. And with that accomplished, he has been free to settle into life in the fast lane elsewhere. An avid golfer, he has identified his favorite L.A. courses, Riviera and Hillcrest, and is committed to learning the landscape of his “second passion” in his new city.
Reaves has a brand ambassador sponsorship deal with plant-based protein drink OWYN— a strategic move, as the lanky guard has only been lifting since college—with which he’s contributing $100,00 to food allergy research. But he refuses to call himself a celebrity, even if the women who gawk at him from the first row of the Crypto.com Arena would disagree; he does concede that he’s become popular in both L.A. and the NBA.
In fact, fan voting for the 2023 Western Conference All-Star team put Reaves in 9th place, an honor that flatters and embarrasses him in equal measure. Initially insisting it’s nothing, he lands on the opinion that “It’s pretty cool to be on that list.” While that fan recognition may be slightly incongruous with his game contribution and stature, the rumors of a potential four-year, $50 million contract with the Lakers when his guarantee ends in June suggest the NBA thinks Reaves is very much here to stay, both on the court and in the business.
Cousin Greg can’t say the same.
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