On Monday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania kicked off the week of the 2022 NBA Draft with a report on what could be the most polarizing player of this offseason (and of recent NBA memory) in Kyrie Irving. And, as it almost always happens, the Lakers were connected to the most tantalizing potential movement of the summer as Charania noted the team could be an “interested suitor” in trying to acquire Kyrie with his talks to return to the Brooklyn Nets currently at an “impasse.”
The Clippers and Knicks were also mentioned as potentially interested parties as free agency has officially become interesting now that Kyrie Irving could be switching teams.
But given the fact that the Lakers are far over the salary cap for the 2022-23 season, how could they even acquire Irving if they wanted to?
The Lakers and Nets swap stars
The only way this would work would be if the Nets signed-and-traded Irving to the Lakers for Russell Westbrook. Assuming Irving opts out of his $36.5 million player option to get a deal with a higher average-annual-value, his salary would come close to matching Westbrook’s, if he in fact does choose to pick up his $47 million player option with the Lakers.
Both Irving and Westbrook have until June 29th to opt in or out of their 2022-23 player options.
At this point in their respective careers, even with Irving’s occasionally flippant approach to showing up to play basketball, Irving is a far better player to have on your team when compared to Westbrook. That means the Lakers would likely have to sweeten the deal with both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks (the only first-rounders they have available to trade this offseason).
Now, for this trade example (as well as the ones below), we’re going to assume that Irving will be opting-out to sign a max deal before getting traded. The Athletic’s Fred Katz noted that a four-year max salary for the 30-year-old would start around $42.7 million, and would increase each year (phew). Obviously, the Lakers would hopefully be able to negotiate a smaller deal with fewer years given Irving’s lack of reliability, but for this... let’s expect the worse.
But maybe it’s not just Russ and two firsts for Kyrie. Maybe the Nets don’t want to pay the $36 million they owe to Joe Harris over the next seasons given his injury-riddled 2021-22 season. The trade below would help the Nets to save a lot of money following the 2023 offseason.
NOTE: In these Fanspo trade machine graphics, the 2026 and 2028 first-round picks are stand-ins for what would actually be the 2027 and 2029 firsts.
This type of two-team trade between the Lakers and Nets is possible, and yes, I still think the Lakers would have to pony up the two firsts even if they added in Talen Horton-Tucker. I think his perceived value around the league has plummeted and that $10.2M annual salary isn’t looking as good as say Kyle Kuzma’s $13M did when he signed an extension with the team.
Although it’s technically possible, I see no situation on God’s green earth in which the Nets actually allow Westbrook to play for their team, even if it’s only for one season. Although their championship aspirations may only be slightly more plausible than the Lakers’, that’s still going to be their goal so long as Kevin Durant is on their roster. And oh yeah, KD and Westbrook’s imperfect history together probably makes a reunion even less likely...
That brings me to what I believe is the only truly feasible option for the Lakers being able to put Kyrie Irving alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis: a three-team trade.
In these examples below, the Nets and Lakers are able to rope in a third team to take on the privilege of bringing Westbrook into town. As no team ever makes a trade without at least feeling that they’re getting something in value in return, these clubs join the party to either relieve their salary cap in future seasons or to get future draft picks while they retool and rebuild (or both).
The Hornets (and many of the teams to follow) have been heavily reported to be looking to make trades this offseason. They may (or may not) be re-signing Miles Bridges to a massive contract, and will need to get rid of some money to stomach that type of deal, especially if they’re not expecting to be championship contenders any time soon.
They enter the mix to give the Nets a new on-ball creator in Terry Rozier while offloading Gordon Hayward’s hefty deal that still has two more years remaining. They also throw in P.J. Washington, who isn’t paid heavily now, but will need a new contract in 2023. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer has reported recently that the Hornets were expected to gauge other teams’ interest in Rozier and Washington while another report from Brian Windhorst has made them seem desperate to deal Hayward in any way possible.
A Lakers first goes to the Hornets for getting nothing in return other than Westbrook, while the other first-rounder goes to the Nets for the simple fact that none of the guys they’re getting back come close to Kyrie’s talent.
Below are two other examples of possible three-team trades which would send Kyrie to the Lakers, one involving the Pacers and one involving, hilariously, the Wizards.
In a deal with the Pacers, they finally trades Myles Turner after years of rumors surrounding the big man while also getting off Malcolm Brogdon’s longterm, expensive contract. The Athletic’s Shams Charania indicated recently that the team is “seriously discussing trades” including the two. They receive two firsts for their troubles while the Nets net a viable replacement for Kyrie in Brogdon along with the best defensive center KD’s gotten to play with since he joined the Nets.
As for the Wizards deal... this one is a bit of a blockbuster. The Wizards sign-and-trade Bradley Beal after he opts-out of his 2022-23 player option, sending him to the Nets in what is easily their best return for Kyrie. The Lakers’ send two firsts to the Wizards, as do the Nets, while Ish Smith heads to Brooklyn as salary ballast to make this thing work.
The four-team trade
It’s hard enough to execute a three-team trade. But hey, I wanted to tease out the wildest scenario imaginable that could satisfy this already insane set of circumstances. And honestly, I don’t think this four-team trade below is that nuts.
Here’s what each of the Lakers’ trade partners gets in this deal:
- The Nets get diet Kyrie Irving in the form of Malcolm Brogdon, and Nikola Vucevic from the Bulls for some offensive firepower at the center position.
- The Pacers offload Brogdon’s salary while receiving three first-rounders, including one in 2023 from the Bulls. Indiana could then take the opportunity to use a combination of some of those picks along with their own selection to move up in next year’s draft.
- The Bulls get a defensive center that they are seemingly looking for this summer given their rumors of trying to acquire the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert.
Sadly, I can’t convince myself in much of any of the above actually happening. The three-team trades involving the Hornets and Pacers seem like the most feasible route for the Lakers to acquire Kyrie Irving, but even those trades depend on factors outside of the team’s control.
Some of these pieces above could be dealt before the Lakers and Nets can even execute trades involving Russ and Kyrie. The 2022 NBA Draft is on Thursday and those two don’t have to decide on their player options until Tuesday, Jun 29. That means some, if not most of the wonky trades I created above won’t even be available to the Lakers and Nets by the end of the week as the trade market heats up around the draft.
Another factor is that the Clippers and Knicks have far more assets than the Lakers to try and complete a Kyrie trade. Either of them could complete a simple two-team trade between themselves and the Nets, while the Knicks could simply shed some salary to sign Kyrie outright if he were to opt-out.
But who knows, maybe the Clippers and Knicks aren’t as desperate to add Kyrie as the Lakers are. Also, Kyrie may not even want to go to those places in a trade, threatening the Nets to opt-out and leave with the team receiving nothing in return.
And if some of the above teams aren’t able to complete their first choice deals come Thursday’s Draft, then look out for some chatter this weekend and early next week of the Lakers trying to bring in a third team to take on Russ.
If that type of scuttlebutt starts, leading to one of the trades above, you can go ahead and praise me for my omniscience in the Twitter link below.