One week into free agency, the NBA has had some notable shifts along the league’s landscape. Rudy Gobert was traded to the Timberwolves. Dejounte Murray is joining Trae Young and the Hawks. Malcolm Brogdon was acquired by the Celtics fresh off their Finals appearance.
The biggest dominoes have yet to fall, however, as the NBA waits for the Nets to move Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Durant trade could take some time as owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks seek a massive haul for one of the league’s best players.
For Irving, it appears there’s only one destination — the Lakers.
Five days after Irving picked up his $37 million player option for the 2022-23 season, the Nets reportedly began trade talks with the Lakers on a deal that included Russell Westbrook. On Thursday, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst revealed that LeBron James would welcome a reunion with Irving in Los Angeles. Windhorst also said on his podcast this week that Irving “absolutely wants to be a Los Angeles Laker” and the "Lakers want Kyrie Irving.”
So, it’s not a matter of if the Lakers acquire Irving but a matter of when.
The biggest hurdle to an Irving-to-Lakers trade is Westbrook’s $47 million salary for the final year of his expiring contract. Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus reported Thursday that the Spurs could be a Westbrook destination to help facilitate a multi-team swap.
Irving is a fantastic talent. He’s one of the best scorers and one-on-one players in the NBA. Given his shooting skills, the seven-time All-Star guard is certainly a better fit on the Lakers than Westbrook, and the thought of an Irving-James-Anthony Davis big three is enticing for a team and fan base itching to make a championship run again.
But the Lakers won’t just be acquiring Irving’s exceptional skill set. He also brings a track record of antics and a recent history of prolonged absences. Clearly, there are pros and cons to the Lakers acquiring Irving, who could either catapult them into title contention or make them the laughingstock of the league (again).
Let’s take a closer look, starting with the negatives.
Why Lakers SHOULDN’T trade for Irving
The loss of first-round picks: Ridding themselves of Westbrook after a disastrous 2021-22 campaign would be a major win for the Lakers. It also would come with a price. Team president Rob Pelinka must clean up his mess from a 33-49 season, but any potential trade for Irving likely means the Lakers will have to include first-round picks in 2027 and 2029. The team still has first-round pick swaps with the Pelicans in 2023 and 2024 as part of the Davis blockbuster in 2019.
His lack of availability: Irving has played just 103 games over the last three seasons. In 2019-20, he was limited to 20 games coming off shoulder surgery. In 2020-21, he played 54 of 72 regular-season games, missing time due to injury and personal reasons. Also, while taking personal time that season, he was seen maskless at a club for his sister’s birthday in what looked like a direct violation of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. And, of course, his unvaccinated status severely limited his availability last season, as New York City’s COVID-19 mandates prevented him from playing home games. The Nets banned him from the team, then brought him back to play road games before NYC lifted its mandates. His absence affected the Nets’ playoff seeding (seventh at 44-38). Including a first-round sweep by Boston, Irving only played a total of 33 games in 2021-22.
It’s a high-risk deal: Irving is unpredictable. And, with James only getting older and Davis having his own injury history, is Irving worth the risk of trading future picks and young players like Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn? Also, Irving could leave the Lakers after one season if he decides not to sign an extension. That would be a worst-case scenario.
Why Lakers SHOULD trade for Irving
It’s Kyrie freaking Irving: He’s a top-five point guard, one who can play on and off the ball and get his own bucket whenever he wants. He only played in 29 regular-season games last season, but he averaged 27.4 points and 5.8 assists on shooting splits of .469 from the field, .418 on 3-pointers and .915 from the free-throw line.
Less pressure on LeBron: Irving would create and score as much as he’s been accustomed, resulting in reduced regular-season minutes for the 37-year-old James as he enters his 20th season.
Championship experience: We know what Irving is capable of alongside James. They were the Cavaliers’ dynamic duo that led a historic comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. It was Irving who made the title-winning shot in Game 7, too.
Potential for future dividends: If dealing first-round picks lands Irving and either Seth Curry or Joe Harris — or both — and results in Irving and James signing extensions with the Lakers after a successful season — one that results in title banner No. 18 — then it’s totally worth giving up the draft capital (see Los Angeles Rams, Super Bowl win).
Conclusion: Lakers should trade for Irving
This is a no-brainer. Irving makes the team better, and he wants to be a Laker. LeBron wants him to be a Laker. And, under first-year head coach Darvin Ham, the Lakers will be a title contender with Irving, James and Davis regardless of who else is added to the roster.
If Pelinka can’t pull off a deal to acquire Irving, it will be another long, sufferable season for the Purple and Gold.