The Los Angeles Lakers, stuck watching the Golden State Warriors celebrating their newly earned NBA championship, head into the busiest section of their offseason facing a huge question.
“Is there a way that this could be us next summer?”
With limited draft assets, no salary cap space and a roster full of empty spots, the pathway back to a championship requires some major moves.
Well, this would be a big one.
Early Monday, the Athletic reported Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving and the Nets were at an “impasse” in contract talks, opening the door for Irving to look for a new team.
Among those suitors, the Lakers and a reunion with LeBron James might make the most sense.
Here’s a quick primer on the situation:
What’s the latest
Irving has the option to become a free agent this summer if he were to turn down a player option for nearly $37 million to return to the Nets for the final year of his deal. Discussions about an extension with the Nets have stalled. That opens the door for Irving to find a new home.
After joining the Nets before the 2019 season, Irving played only 103 games because of injuries, vaccine requirements and personal issues. Brooklyn won just one of their three playoff series, though they lost to eventual champion Milwaukee in seven games with Irving hurt for the finale.
Despite the injuries and the other distractions, Irving is still one of the most talented players in the NBA, a guard able to shoot from every spot on the court efficiently regardless of degree of difficulty.
He turned 30 in March.
What could the Lakers trade?
There are ways that Irving could land on the Lakers without a trade that would require the kind of financial sacrifice that is unprecedented in the NBA, leaving more than $20 million on the table to move west. It’s not impossible in the strict definitions of the word.
A more realistic approach would be a trade. And luckily, for the Lakers, Russell Westbrook’s expiring contract is functionally a match.
The best offer the Lakers can make in this trade — and really any deal — would be that contract, plus first-round picks in 2027 and 2029. Sign-and-trade deals aren’t options because of the cap implications, meaning Irving would need to first opt in with the Nets.
When you speak to executives around the league, trading picks that deep into the future is always scary, regardless of what you’re getting back. So much can change in a single season, never mind five seasons. Those picks, functionally, represent the final dollars in a bank account. If you spend them now, you’re going to have to wait awhile before you can deal again.
That means whenever the next star is disgruntled and wants to move, the Lakers will have even less to make a move.
The Nets could then use Westbrook’s contract and those picks — plus additional sweeteners that the Lakers don’t have — to make a move for key role players to pair with Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons. Maybe a three-team swap could be orchestrated, though the more teams involved, generally, the more complicated talks become.
What are Irving’s other options?
The New York Knicks would certainly be an option — people assumed Irving and Kevin Durant were headed there before they chose Brooklyn. The Clippers originally owned the pick Cleveland used to select Irving No. 1 overall and they could certainly use a star point guard. However, the Clippers have a strong culture already built and are probably less likely to take on risk than the Knicks or Lakers. Same is probably true for Miami, though their culture excels in letting players be themselves.
The best option for Irving could simply be staying in Brooklyn with Durant.
Yet Irving landing with the Lakers isn’t impossible. James has tweeted praise for Irving since the Lakers’ season ended. Imagining how it could and would work is easier to do if Irving is looking to leave the Nets.