The Los Angeles Lakers seemed to realize they were out of the hunt for Kyrie Irving as soon as Saturday — if not earlier — but Irving is now officially off the board. According to multiple reporters — around an hour before free agency officially begins, it should be noted — and as has been widely expected for weeks, he’s joining the Brooklyn Nets. Less predicted was that Kevin Durant will be joining him:
An undeniable vibe of confidence is emanating from Brooklyn as we speak: The Nets sure seem to believe they are getting Kevin Durant's commitment tonight to go with Kyrie Irving"s ... with DeAndre Jordan, Durant's close friend, to follow— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 30, 2019
Kyrie Irving will soon meet to finalize a four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets, with a fourth-year player option, league sources told @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie is expected to be part of the franchise’s pitch meeting for Irving tonight, sources said.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 30, 2019
Brooklyn is making a clean sweep tonight: Brooklyn will sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
The Lakers never truly seemed to be in the hunt for Durant, so that part isn’t a shock. They were more linked to Irving, who was one of the best free agents on the market, and now the team would appear poised to fully pivot towards their chase for Kawhi Leonard. If they can’t lure him, they will reportedly split up their approximately $32 million in cap space among multiple role players.
Will one of those players be D’Angelo Russell, whose max of around $27 million is short of the $32 million-ish other free agents are eligible for? It sounds like the Lakers have secured a meeting with Russell, who the Nets will renounce now that they have Irving in tow, and the team will chase Leonard as well.
Missing out on Irving is obviously not ideal because there are only so many players worth the max on the market, but those two names above make it clear that the Lakers do have other options.
The most attractive among them — even before Irving signed — is obviously Leonard, who is the best player available this summer in general. He would instantly make the Lakers not just title contenders, but the favorites to win the championship next season, as well as giving them arguably the best big three of all time by pairing with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers would still have to figure out the rest of their roster with just the small bi-annual exception and veteran’s minimum contracts to offer, but they can surely lure a few ring chasers to join on with that squad.
If Leonard is off the table, Russell would also instantly solve the Lakers’ issue of not having a point guard, and while he’s not on Leonard’s level as a player, he was an All-Star last season and would give L.A. one more dynamic scorer and shooting threat to space the floor around James and Davis. He’d be a fine option to fill out their big three, while leaving the team with a bit of extra cap room to flesh out the roster. Still, indications are that he may ultimately head elsewhere:
The Lakers' interest in D'Angelo Russell is undeniable, league sources say, but Minnesota has made the All-Star guard its top priority in free agency knowing that the Nets mere hours away from the momentous addition of Kyrie Irving— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 30, 2019
The team also plans to chase Jimmy Butler on some level, although that seems to be a backup plan for both sides.
If the Lakers can’t get any of those guys, using their remaining space to sign several role players to give the team depth isn’t the worst option. It’s not as good as finding a star, but there are useful players still available in free agency, and the Lakers being able to get a few above-average ones to plug the many holes they have on their team is an avenue worth pursuing.
Like I said, the Lakers have options. Not getting one of the best players available is never a good thing, but the team still has plenty of opportunities to stick the landing here — and even land a different star. Even if they only end up with role players, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still a solid core to build around. The Lakers are in a good position, all that remains to be seen is just how good.
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