Wednesday was a big day for the Lakers. They got LeBron James to agree to a two-year, $97.1 million deal that will keep him in L.A. till he’s 40.
But according to sources in L.A., LeBron has some unfinished business he’d like the Lakers to move on: re-uniting with Kyrie Irving. Jovan Buha wrote for The Athletic:
Those around the team were confident that James signing an extension was likely, considering how much he’s enjoyed playing for the Lakers and living in Los Angeles. The primary complication in James’ decision was that he has been privately adamant that the Lakers still need to improve the current roster and trade for superstar point guard Kyrie Irving, league sources have told The Athletic.
There was a belief among some that James might refrain from signing the extension quickly as a leverage play. James could’ve twisted the Lakers’ proverbial arm, applying pressure to make a trade, similar to the way he has operated in the past. Instead, he committed for at least the next two seasons, regardless of if the Lakers trade Russell Westbrook or how they fare this season.
Indeed there are reports out of California that the Lakers are now willing to add their final two first rounders — in 2027 and 2029 — to any package for Irving, something that reportedly was a sticking point in talks between Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Eric Pincus of the Bleacher Report reported LeBron’s signing may have changed the minds of owner Jeanie Buss and GM Rob Pelinka:
Per several sources connected to teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers have not been willing to part with significant draft capital to get off Russell Westbrook’s contract. But that may have been tied to uncertainty surrounding James’ future, which is now put to rest.
But are the Nets still interested? Adrian Wojnarowski dropped in hint in his discussion of the LeBron deal that they are not.
“The Lakers are still active in trade talks around the league,” said Woj. “Listen, they have two real assets to put there to do a significant trade: their 2027 and 2029 first round picks if unprotected have a lot of value in the marketplace. The Lakers, I am told, would be willing to do that in a Kyrie Irving trade but that’s not something the Nets have been interested in.”
That was all Woj said about the Nets and Lakers but one reason Sean Marks and Joe Tsai might not be interested in such a deal is that the only way it happens is if Russell Westbrook goes the other way. Westbrook, 33, like Irving, is playing on the last year of a long-term deal but he makes $11 million more and is coming off his worst season since his rookie year. The Nets reportedly aren’t interested in Westbook and to foist him off on a third team would require someone — either them or the Lakers — giving up additional assets. (Irving and Westbrook were working out together last week in L.A.)
Marc Stein had a similar take later Thursday:
The Nets’ current stance, sources say, is that they are unwilling to send out Irving in a trade if the deal solely brings back future assets. They apparently want win-now talent in return to part with Irving, despite all of the turmoil that has engulfed the Nets for months.
Perhaps that position changes if the Nets manufacture a trade they like that finds a new home for the disgruntled Kevin Durant, but they have not yet wavered. The Nets have consistently rebuffed the idea of taking on Westbrook and insist they won’t be swayed by mere draft compensation … attractive as it is.
It would thus require a third team, barring a change in Brooklyn’s approach, to facilitate an Irving-to-the-Lakers move.
Also Pincus of Bleacher Report wrote Brooklyn isn’t willing to expand the deal to include Joe Harris on the Nets side and other assets on the Lakers side.
The Lakers have explored runs at Nets point guard Kyrie Irving ($36.9 million expiring contract), but it’s unclear if Brooklyn would want to include Joe Harris’ $19.9 million salary for 2023-24 as well.
Does all this another signal that despite Kevin Durant’s unsettled (at best) situation, the Nets want to keep Irving and pair him with at least Ben Simmons? That would be a big turnabout, but there’s ample evidence to suggest that with Tsai praising Irving and the Nets going all out to promote Irving’s “More than a Run” event at Kean University two weeks ago.
Moreover, a source close to Irving told Brian Lewis that Irving has “every intention” of playing with the Nets this season with or without KD. People around Irving also think it’s entirely possible that Durant could return.
On ESPN’s Get Up Thursday, Brian Windhorst noted that Irving is “invested” in playing for the Nets this season:
“I think Kyrie is invested in being a Brooklyn Net next year. Obviously, there was some turmoil with his contract extension not happening. He realizes his best path going forward to get the contact he wants in Brooklyn or elsewhere is to have a very good season.
”So from what I can gather, he and the Nets are looking forward to meeting up in training camp. Right now, I think the Nets want to run this team back. They’re hoping that Kevin Durant agrees,” Windhorst said. “The way they’re conducting trade talks and the prices they are asking has teams out there thinking they don’t really want to trade Kevin Durant anyway. They want to bring this team back. We’ll see if Kevin Durant goes along with that in training camp.”
Looking beyond this season, there’s also the possibility that the Lakers postpone their pursuit of Irving till next summer when he’s an unrestricted free agent and L.A. will have some cap space. LeBron (along with Anthony Davis) will also be entering their last guaranteed season although both can be extended.
Again, it’s all speculation, but as of now, that’s all we got.
- NBA rumors: Kyrie Irving ‘invested’ in playing for Nets, insider says - Adam Zagoria - NJ.com
- LeBron James ‘adamant’ Lakers need Kyrie Irving despite signing deal - Jenna Lemoncelli - New York Post