If the probability of Kyrie Irving being traded to the Lakers was considered “extremely likely” around the time of the initial news of Kevin Durant asking for a trade over the first weekend of NBA free agency, the general vibes about the probability of that move at this current time range from “Eh, maybe” to “Increasingly unlikely.”
Those vibes were covered in our latest rumor roundup, which included the fact that recent discussions between the Lakers and Nets were at a standstill while the Lakers continued to resist attaching multiple first-round picks to the deal as the Nets directed their focus towards the KD negotiations.
The above two points have been reported ad nauseam by every reporter with a working phone at this point, with a new point getting close to the two above in terms of the number of times it’s been stated. That bit of information is that the Lakers likely have a “Plan B” or even a “Plan C” if their pursuit of Kyrie Irving doesn’t work out.
Although ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski did note below that trade talks surrounding Irving are “not completely dead,” he did bring up names like Eric Gordon or Buddy Hield when saying he thinks the Lakers will at least make some trade this summer, even if it’s not one for Irving.
"I think the Lakers will make a deal, maybe more than one deal. It may not be for Kyrie Irving, it may not be for an All-NBA player, an All-Star... It's not completely dead with Brooklyn... I don't think the Lakers are done."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) July 18, 2022
But don’t start thinking that the Lakers aren’t fully aligned with LeBron James on the idea of putting Kyrie in the purple-and-gold just because they have some safety nets in place. NBA Insider Marc Stein made it clear in his latest Substack that they still want Irving first and foremost above any other move they could make this summer.
The Lakers’ preferred scenario, to be clear, is still trading for Irving, but the Nets A) appear focused on nailing down a Durant trade before pressing for Irving’s exit and B) have expressed great reluctance regarding any trade with the Lakers that doesn’t involve a third team willing to take on Westbrook’s contract (which Brooklyn does not want). As my Bleacher Report colleague Jake Fischer reported recently on his “Please Don’t Aggregate This” live audio show, Utah is another team regarded by some league executives as a potential Westbrook trade partner if — IF — Utah successfully completes a Mitchell trade.
Stein actually brought up one specific scenario that one of his sources was theorizing about as an option. It is clearly someone speculating, but its informed speculation that still felt like it was worth sharing:
We’ve been writing on this Substack for months that the Lakers do not want to attach future first-round picks to a Russell Westbrook trade just to facilitate Westbrook’s departure ... but also that the Lakers are wary of taking back long-term salary that hampers future flexibility. Yet one league source advised me in Las Vegas to keep an eye on the Knicks and Lakers discussing a potential Westbrook deal if — IF — Leon Rose can successfully bring Donovan Mitchell to Madison Square Garden. The source’s thinking: After adding Mitchell, New York would be expected to explore scenarios to trade away Julius Randle. And Randle, just one season removed from his breakthrough to All-Star and All-NBA status, is presumably the sort of player that the Lakers would have to consider taking on if — IF — they are unable to use Westbrook’s $47.1 million expiring contract in a trade for Kyrie Irving. Randle, 27, is entering Year 1 of a four-year deal with the Knicks worth $117 million ($106 million guaranteed) and, of course, played his first four NBA seasons with the Lakers.
And although this is just one of Stein’s sources taking an educated guess, this now includes the Knicks on a short list of teams (with the oft-mentioned Spurs and Pacers also included) that could possibly be a third team in a hypothetical trade that would see Russell Westbrook leaving the Lakers with Irving taking his place.
A Julius Randle return to L.A. after the way he left would be quite the new subplot in this Lakers drama that continues to get juicier by the day. Is that realistic? I guess it all depends on how willing the Knicks would be to help out the two parties following a blockbuster deal to land Donovan Mitchell. Would Randle be a good fit at this point alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis? That’s probably a better question, and given the toughness in answering it, I’d assume this would be a “Plan D” for the team if it is even in their plans at all.
But the Randle and Knicks of it all is beside the point. The Lakers still want Irving. Will that result in them providing both the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in a deal to satisfy the Nets’ demands? Will that even matter at this point if the Lakers can’t find a third team to divert Russ from Brooklyn to [INSERT THIRD TEAM CITY HERE]?
And although the Lakers’ Big Three had a very believable, productive conversation on the phone recently, fans shouldn’t panic and assume that means they’re running it back. Stein’s reporting shows that even if LeBron and Russ had a reconciliation out of nowhere, the organization is still open to getting rid of him, at least if it means Irving replaces him in the Big Three.