It’s remarkably hard to logically find a way to get Kyrie Irving to the Lakers this off-season that doesn’t involve some wild assumptions or leaps of faith, but the rumors, which began on Monday, aren’t going away and, if anything, seem to be picking up steam.
With Irving and the Nets in a standoff of sorts, the Lakers are amongst the teams monitoring the situation with an interest in acquiring Irving. But their lack of assets to trade for him makes it a situation that seems remarkably improbable.
And yet, on Wednesday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN appeared on NBA Today and called the Lakers “the most significant threat” for Kyrie.
There are a couple of things to note here. For one, the Lakers could be the most significant threat and still not be much of a threat at all. It’s a pretty relative term.
But more importantly is that immediately after this 90-second clip, Wojnarowski then went on to discuss at length how much Kyrie wants a long-term max contract, something the Lakers absolutely cannot offer him. The only path to that would be negotiating a trade then signing him to an extension and, as stated, the Lakers barely have enough assets to shed Westbrook’s enormous contract, let alone trade for a player of Irving’s caliber.
Thus, the only other possible route for Irving to join the Lakers is by him opting out of his contract and coming to LA via the taxpayer mid-level exception (TPMLE), which would pay him roughly $6 million next season. So, just to be clear, the most realistic scenario here is Kyrie turning down something in the neighborhood of $30 million to come to Los Angeles.
Kyrie is an unpredictable person who certainly follows his own path, but turning down $30 million is unprecedented and in no way is something anyone can predict or expect. It’s that line of thinking, then, that longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein detailed in his latest newsletter as to why those around the league don’t see the Lakers as a plausible destination, even if Kyrie and LeBron James may have had contact this offseason.
There are credible rumblings in circulation that Irving, for starters, has indeed had some recent contact with Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, his former Cleveland teammate, to presumably discuss a potential reunion in Hollywood. I’m told it would be a stretch, though, to suggest that the Lakers are currently pursuing Irving. They do not possess the trade assets to realistically engage Brooklyn in Irving trade talks even if he exercises his player option for next season. Also: The Lakers, as things stand, couldn’t offer Irving more than the midlevel exception for tax-paying teams for next season if Irving bypasses his player option to opt for free agency. That MLE, remember, tops out at a projected $6.39 million. The idea of Irving declining his player option and essentially playing for $30 million less in L.A., even after the $15-plus million he willingly sacrificed last season by refusing the COVID-19 vaccine and missing the first 35 games of the season, just doesn’t seem plausible.
Now, in fairness, Kyrie did sit at home and effectively forfeited $17 million last season because he would not get vaccinated, so it’s not as much of a stretch to believe he’d turn down $30 million. But that still doesn’t make it likely. A 0% chance is less than a 1% chance, but a 1% chance is still wildly unlikely.
Even still, short of a complicated three-team deal or Irving just deciding he doesn’t want an extra $30 million at this point, the Lakers and Kyrie Irving are going to keep circling each other from afar this offseason through the rumor mill even if they remain unlikely to eventually end up in the same place.