The 2022 NBA Finals concluded on Thursday, June 16th with the Warriors besting the Celtics in six games. With the 2022 NBA Draft — an annual epicenter of transactional activity — right around the corner on June 23rd, news surrounding the league was sure to be riveting once the next week began. That’s exactly what happened Monday morning, when a report surrounding current Brooklyn Net Kyrie Irving came out. And, with most news surrounding big names, the Los Angeles Lakers were involved.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania has reported that “an impasse” currently exists between Kyrie and the Nets with Kyrie considering a test of the open marketplace with the Lakers, Knicks, and Clippers expected to be “interested suitors”.
Sources: Kyrie Irving, Nets are at impasse in conversations about his future in Brooklyn, clearing way for the seven-time All-Star to consider the open market. Lakers and Knicks expected to emerge among potential suitors.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 20, 2022
Given the fact that the idea of Kyrie Irving joining the Lakers is now a scenario reported by arguably the most sourced and respected reporter in the NBA… it’s now time to seriously consider the idea of it happening.
Below, I’ll dive into the pros, cons, and then the likeliness of Kyrie joining the Lakers to play with his former teammate LeBron James again.
I’ll dive into this more down in the “likeliness” section, but given the fact that the Lakers will be well above the cap entering this offseason, any acquisition of Kyrie will have to come from a trade. In that trade, Russell Westbrook would be the main piece going out from the Lakers’ side. That is a “pro” in and of itself given how much of a negative impact Russ had on the team’s culture, spacing, and its two superstars when the three players shared the court.
But it’s not like this is a theoretical trade where the Lakers’ top benefit of trading Russ is just the fact that he won’t be on the team anymore. The Lakers aren’t just getting two-to-three bad contracts in return for arguably the worst contract in the NBA in Russ. They’re getting Kyrie freakin’ Irving.
All “cons” below aside, the man is still one of the most talented scorers in the league today. Last regular season with Brooklyn, he averaged 27.4 points per game with 46.9% field-goal shooting on 21.2 attempts per game, including 41.8% on 8.2 3-point field-goal attempts per game. For reference on how unique of a player Kyrie could be for the Lakers, here’s a list of players the franchise has had that have hit these marks in a season:
Greater than or equal to 45.0% FG percentage, 20.0 FGAs per game, 40.0% 3-point FG percentage, 6.0 3-point FGAs per game:
That’s it. That’s the list. From 1946 through 2022, no Laker has ever hit the thresholds of all four of those statistics in a single season.
His individual talent aside, he would be a great fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. For one, he’d greatly improve the spacing for the team when compared to Russ to open those driving lanes for his two new superstar teammates and him. Second, he’d be a great pick-and-roll partner for AD to allow the Lakers to maintain a high floor of offensive production with the aging LeBron on the bench. Third, we all know Kyrie would be a great fit alongside LeBron as we all saw how successful the two were together in Cleveland. Adding to that, Kyrie is a better player today than he was back in the 2014-2017 years the two played together for the Cavaliers.
An underrated pro of this may be how LeBron feels about it. The relationship chasm between the two has seemingly closed since their break-up in 2017, with the two frequently speaking fondly of each other when the other comes up in conversation. Conversely, LeBron seems over Westbrook. There’s a looming decision surrounding whether or not LeBron will sign an extension with the Lakers next season to avoid him entering free agency in 2023. Maybe this trade would unofficially get LeBron to verbally accept some type of extension before officially signing it when he can in August.
Enough positivity. Let’s get into the major cons surrounding a Lakers trade to acquire Kyrie Irving.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. The man only played 29 games last season despite the fact that he was healthy (in terms of basketball injuries) for basically the entirety of the year. This was because of the fact that Kyrie was (and assumedly still is) unvaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Because of the New York state and city laws at the time of the start of the 2021-22 season, Kyrie was not allowed to play in home games. Now, that limitation against Kyrie in New York was eventually lifted towards the end of the season and with the same type of limitation not existing in Los Angeles anymore, so the same sort of issue surrounding COVID-19 shouldn’t exist for the 2022-23 season.
However, we all know from our experiences the last two years that the state of COVID-19 can change at the drop of the hat. What happens if new health and safety guidelines are imposed from the L.A./California governments following a trade for Kyrie that forces him to sit out all home games?
COVID-19 aside, Kyrie also has an extensive list of injuries dating back to the 2015 NBA Finals with the Cavaliers that have caused him to miss a large share of games. He missed games two through six of that series, missed all three rounds of the 2018 NBA Playoffs with the Celtics before they lost in seven to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and he only played in 74 of the 136 games of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 regular seasons with the Nets.
Kyrie Irving Nets career:
103 — Games played
123 — Games missed pic.twitter.com/KhbUE5SVd2
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 20, 2022
And putting his injuries-and-COVID-19-related absences aside, he’s shown general flakiness regarding his team’s games, most notably missing because of how he reportedly felt about the January 6th Capitol insurrection in Washington, DC. Regardless of how you feel about taking time off of work after traumatic events, everyone can agree that that sort of decision-making is usually not accepted without some raised eyebrows in the basketball world.
Those concerns above are the first and foremost reasons that should make the Lakers hesitant about acquiring Kyrie, but his new contract may be another. In order to be traded to the Lakers, Irving would likely have to opt into the final year of his contract valued at nearly $37 million, which is significantly lower than the $47 million owed to Westbrook next season, assuming the former MVP opts into the final year of his contract. However, if the Lakers see Irving as a long-term option to play alongside James and Davis (and lead the team along with AD after LeBron is retired or gone), then they would have to give him a long-term contract that is nothing to sneeze at:
Here's a breakdown of the five-year max contract Irving is eligible to sign:
2022-23: $42.7 million
2023-24: $46.1 million
2024-25: $49.8 million
2025-26: $53.8 million
2026-27: $58.1 million
No sane/smart organization would offer Kyrie anything close to that guaranteed $$ https://t.co/eTASVzrSWd
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) June 20, 2022
The Westbrook experiment will be done in 2023 at the latest. The Kyrie experiment may feature a deal lasting until 2025, or even 2026. Sure, Kyrie could be easier to trade at his annual pay than Westbrook, but that’s still a long-term commitment to a guy with injury issues and plenty of off-the-court tomfooleries.
If you’re feeling the cons of trading for Kyrie Irving far outweigh the pros, I’d advise you not to worry too much about this.
As I said previously, Westbrook would have to be involved in any Lakers acquisition of Kyrie. Even if the Lakers attached their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks to Westbrook, would the Nets actually pair Westbrook with Kevin Durant? We know how those two feel about each other and, personal feelings aside, they’re a pretty poor fit on the court together at this point, especially with Ben Simmons in tow. Westbrook isn’t really a good fit with anyone but… I digress.
That means a third team would have to get involved in this trade, a third team that would be willing to take on Westbrook and his $47 million contract. That would mean that third team would have to involve assets that would go to Brooklyn that come close to that $47 million number. The Hornets, Pacers, and Knicks are teams rumored in trades that could be willing to take on Westbrook and a first-round pick to offload rotation players with long-term, high-value contracts to the Nets so that they could get something for losing Kyrie.
But then what happens with the Lakers’ two first-round picks available to trade? You have to imagine the Nets would require one if not both of those for losing Kyrie. The third team would probably want one of those, right? Why would they get involved in this three-way trade if it was only for getting off of committed money down the road?
The Clippers and Knicks have far better trade packages that would allow them to do a straight-up deal with the Nets, giving them a much better leg-up on the Lakers when it comes to possible discussions. Of course, Kyrie could tell the team that he will just opt out before the June 29th deadline and leave if the Nets won’t promise to try and trade him to the Lakers if that’s his only desired destination. The Knicks could end up getting enough salary cap to sign Kyrie outright as Charania outlined in his piece, but other than that, other teams that could realistically sign Kyrie outright are the Magic, Pistons, Pacers, Spurs, Trail Blazers, and Rockets. Does that seem like a list of teams that Kyrie would consider?
Is this just leveraging from Kyrie Irving in his pursuit to drum up more discussions with the Nets to return to play with his buddy Kevin Durant? Who knows. Either way, I’m sure we can guarantee there’s interest between the Lakers and Kyrie in putting him in the purple-and-gold. However, a lot would have to go right for the Lakers for it to even happen given their monumentally dumb decision to dispose of nearly all their assets for their acquisition of Westbrook. And even if those things go right, would it be smart to, again, dive deep into the three-star build?
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens over the next week and analyze the fallout after that. Either way, this will almost certainly not be the last mention of a Lakers and Kyrie partnership.