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Report: Lakers expected to pursue Kyrie Irving in free agency

Kyrie Irving and the Nets are reportedly at a stalemate in contract talks, clearing the way for the Lakers to pursue a deal for the disgruntled All-Star when NBA free agency begins.

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Graphic via Grant Goldberg / Silver Screen and Roll

On Monday morning, Shams Charania of The Athletic lit up some fireworks to kick off NBA Draft week: According to his sources, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets are currently at “an impasse... that clears the way for the seven-time All-Star to consider the open marketplace,” and that the Lakers are among the teams who will try to get a deal done for him.

The latest, from Charania’s report:

The Lakers, Knicks and Clippers are expected to be among the interested suitors if Irving heads elsewhere, multiple sources tell The Athletic.

For the Lakers, the likely path to acquire Irving — and reunite him with LeBron James — would be Irving opting in to facilitate a trade, because the Lakers cannot realistically clear cap space to sign him themselves, and a sign-and-trade would trigger the hard cap, thus making acquiring Irving significantly more difficult. If Irving would opt in, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka would have to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement’s salary-matching rules, meaning if Irving’s $36.6 million was the only incoming salary, the Lakers could send anywhere from $29.3 million to $45.8 million to the Nets and/or a third team in a legal transaction.

Nets Daily, our sister site that covers Brooklyn for SB Nation, also mentioned in their own writeup that this follows a recent trend in the whispers about Irving’s free agency:

The report could also be an attempt by one side or the other to signal that it is now crunchtime to get things done between the Nets and Irving. That seems at this point unlikely. Charania’s report follows one by Jake Fischer last week in an online chat with Eddie Gonzalez of Boardroom.

“I’ve been working on the assumption that all three — Kevin, Kyrie, Ben Simmons — will be there for the start of training camp. However, there’s a lot of talk about Kyrie,” he told Gonzalez. “Definitely some talk about whether they are going to figure out a long term relationship.”

Kyrie seemed to address these rumors himself with a fairly cryptic tweet after the report came out, in a truly LeBron-esque move.

The Kyrie rumors have been burbling for a while, and the Lakers have had discussions about trading for him in the past. In just this most recent season, the team had internal discussions about considering trading for Irving as he was sitting out games in Brooklyn. There was no report on whether a consensus was reached but the discussions were there.

Now, there was also a meeting during the NBA Draft Combine that created some ripples as well as Brooklyn’s Sean Marks and LA’s Rob Pelinka had dinner together. We noted at the time that this wasn’t all that extraordinary — executives from opposing teams meeting is fairly commonplace during the combine and Summer League — but it will also be something many people point to if a trade is done.

Lastly, Kyrie himself talked about the regret he had in not seeing things out alongside LeBron James while the two were together in Cleveland. It was the first admission of any sort of remorse from Irving, who has struggled to find a home or consistent success since leaving the Cavaliers.

Now, as Charania notes, there would be some very fine needle-threading that would have to be done for the Lakers to acquire Irving and it would hard cap the team, but it would give them a Big Three that would complement each other far, far more than the one they have now.

Reports in the past have indicated Kyrie’s desire to play with Anthony Davis as the pair could potentially take the Lakers into the post-LeBron world. The 30-year-old Irving would be set for the following max contract if he were to theoretically sign one with Los Angeles.

The concerns around Irving are plentiful. For one, he played in just 29 games last season due almost entirely to his refusal to get a vaccine shot when Brooklyn and New York had a vaccine mandate. Irving played in 54 of the team’s 72 games the season prior, including 47 of the final 57 games.

In the 2019-20 season, he played in just 20 games in his first season with the Nets. That came after a very unceremonious departure from Boston, something that actually might endear him to Lakers fans. Memorably, Irving missed out on the team’s Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals loss in Boston due to surgery with some question as to whether he could have delayed surgery to play in the game.

Ultimately, things are really bad with Russell Westbrook, but taking this level of risk on Kyrie Irving would be one of the few moves that would not be worth shipping out Russ for. At his best, Kyrie is one of the most talented basketball players in the world.

But he’s also someone that, for myriad reasons, has had issues playing games in recent seasons, and someone that is going to bring with him a LOT of controversy. Acquiring him would raise the floor and ceiling of what this team could accomplish, but it would also instantly create drama and make the waters remarkably choppy to navigate for first-year head coach Darvin Ham.

In a more stable environment that included an established head coach and a front office with a better and longer track record, perhaps trading for Kyrie would make more sense. In the Lakers’ current situation, it feels like too big of a risk, and one that could easily blow up in spectacular fashion.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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