Increasingly, it looks like the Los Angeles Lakers will get their man. The reasons might not be the most encouraging, but by the time next season starts, the consensus around the NBA is that former LeBron James teammate Kyrie Irving will be toiling for the purple-and-gold alongside James and Anthony Davis, and with point guard Russell Westbrook shipped out to Brooklyn or points beyond.
That’s because there is virtually no other team in the league that will be willing to take the plunge on Irving, who came to an impasse with the Nets on negotiations for a contract extension in late June and finally agreed to simply accept the option on the final $37 million on his contract. Before that, Irving had made clear that his preference was to be traded to the Lakers, and even flirted with the idea of taking a $6.5 million one-year deal to make it happen.
One NBA general manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Heavy.com that the Lakers are the only team that can trade for Irving because, as things stand, Irving could sabotage his next team if it is anyone but L.A.
Kyrie Is Lakers-or-Bust?
Here’s how the GM put it in a conversation with Heavy.com NBA insider Steve Bulpett:
“The Nets couldn’t count on Kyrie to show up — and they were the team he CHOSE to be on. What’s it going to be like if he goes somewhere other than the Lakers or someone else he might decide to like at that moment?
“I could easily see him being somewhere he doesn’t want and inventing ways to miss games. I mean, he’s not going to want to waste his minutes and risk himself when he’s just sitting back waiting to go to L.A. (the Lakers) when the season’s over. If you’re the coach and you put him out on the floor, can you have any trust or belief that he’s invested in helping your team win? No [expletive] way.”
Irving can be a free agent next summer and even if he is not traded to the Lakers now, the expectation is that he would sign with the team in the summer of 2023, when the Lakers could have enough cap space to bring him in.
Westbrook, THT for Kyrie & Joe Harris?
So what would the Lakers have to give up to get Irving to Los Angeles? Not very much, since the market on Irving is expected to be so depressed. A straight swap of Irving for Westbrook would not work because Westbrook, at $47 million, makes $10 million more than Irving, and it might not be easy for Brooklyn to find a salary to make up the difference.
The Nets could broaden the deal to also send out sharpshooter Joe Harris, who has a surgically repaired ankle and missed all but 11 games last season. Brooklyn has not wanted to trade Harris, but a blow-up of the roster might change that. The Lakers could then include Talen Horton-Tucker to make the trade meet NBA collective-bargaining standards.
Whether the Lakers would need to include a first-round draft pick is up for debate. With limited offers on hand, the Nets might be stuck taking whatever the Lakers want to give them in a deal. And in the end, Irving would land in L.A.
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