The Los Angeles Lakers have been zealously protecting their cap space over the past few seasons, with the hope of signing a second max-level free agent to pair alongside LeBron James.
The team struck out on Paul George last summer, and isn’t a reported favorite for Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard this offseason. However, another superstar — Kyrie Irving — may be in play.
Irving and James were teammates in Cleveland for three years, but their tenure ended somewhat abruptly when the Cavaliers traded Irving in the 2017 offseason, without notifying James ahead of time. Irving reportedly wanted to be able to run his own team and wasn’t satisfied with the level of credit he got as James’ sidekick in Cleveland, despite hitting the biggest shot in Cavaliers history in the 2016 NBA Finals.
However, a tumultuous experience leading his own group in Boston (or highly enjoyable, depending on who you root for) led Irving to apologize to James earlier this year for how he behaved when he was younger. Having experienced the challenges of being “the man” for the Celtics, Irving had more empathy for James.
Irving’s Celtics season ended with four straight losses — each seemingly worse than the last — to the Milwaukee Bucks, and the deteriorating team chemistry in Boston suggests that the point guard is on his way out. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who covered Irving and James in Cleveland, believes that the two could find themselves on the same team once more in Los Angeles after two years apart.
In an episode of “The Hoop Collective” podcast, Windhorst said:
“As time passes here, I would’ve said that this is impossible for many months. But as time passes here, and as the possibility exists that Jason Kidd could be hired as the Lakers coach, I think the possibility of Kyrie and LeBron reuniting — that door, which was deadbolted, has been un-deadbolted and has now been cracked open … It might even be opening more by the day. And I say that just because I think it’s on Kyrie’s radar, it’s on Kyrie’s board. He has had discussions with people about playing for the Lakers.”
While he was on “The Jump” on Friday, Windhorst also added that Irving and Tyronn Lue weren’t on the best of terms in Cleveland, and Irving might be more amenable to joining the Lakers if Lue were not the head coach. Whether that’s spin to justify Los Angeles messing up the negotiations with Lue, or an actual endorsement for an alternative choice is unclear. But it’s interesting to note how this would mean that the Lakers once again backed themselves into a positive outcome despite their best efforts to screw things up.
Even with the front office in shambles, Los Angeles might remain an attractive free agent destination, and Irving would be quite the prize for the front office after a season (and early offseason) everyone would rather forget.