The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly interested in a trade for Kyrie Irving once again, but just like they did this summer, the team isn’t rushing to give the Nets everything they want right away. Rob Pelinka, Kurt Rambis and the rest of the front office weren’t “aggressive” in their pursuit of Irving right off the bat last offseason, and they are continuing that approach so far this time around, with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reporting that both “the Lakers and Mavericks are also privately expressing limitations on offering significant trade assets for Irving.”
How reserved could the Lakers be? Well, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, their reticence so far doesn’t just extend to which picks they’ll include, or how they’ll protect them. Buha also wrote in his breakdown of talks to this point that the Lakers don’t want to include either of their promising young players in Austin Reaves or Max Christie, either (emphasis mine):
The Lakers have interest in acquiring Irving, according to multiple league sources who were granted anonymity to speak freely on the subject... The situation remains fluid. The going cost to get a team to take on Westbrook and his $47.1 million salary has been one first-round pick at a minimum since last summer. But given Irving’s on-court pedigree and play this season, the Lakers would almost certainly have to include both first-round picks. Protecting one of those picks could result in the Nets asking for the Lakers to perhaps include Austin Reaves or Max Christie, two of the Lakers’ promising young role players. But the Lakers aren’t interested in including either in a potential package, according to those sources.
Not being “interested” in including Christie or Reaves is not quite the same thing as making them untouchable; in a vacuum, I am often not “interested” in paying a bunch of money in delivery fees on Uber Eats, but sometimes when I get really hungry and don’t feel like cooking, it happens anyway. The Lakers may get some stomach pangs closer to the deadline that could change their stance on Reaves or Christie.
Still, there are also a few reasons to think they might be serious in such a stance. Everyone remembers 2021, which saw Pelinka refuse to use Talen Horton-Tucker to push a trade for Kyle Lowry over the finish line and then choose to pay him instead of Alex Caruso (in a self-imposed, cheap choice, but a choice nonetheless). If there is one thing time has shown that Pelinka will do, it’s hold on to players that were considered a “win” for his regime’s resume, i.e. finding THT late in the second round. Both Christie and Reaves qualify as wins for his front office, and they may be hesitatnt to include them for self-preservation reasons down the line if either blossom and/or a trade for Irving goes bust.
All that noted, the Horton-Tucker situation also showed how potentially overvaluing — I’m still holding out hope THT puts it together, but I digress — your own young players can backfire. Reaves is due for an eight-figure contract (reportedly higher than the one Caruso got) this summer because the Lakers chose to only offer him a two-year deal. He’s about to get pricier. Christie will be a free agent in the summer of 2024 because he is the only player picked in the top 50 of the last draft that is on a regular NBA contract and only signed for two years, just like they did with THT and Reaves before him. Based on the Lakers’ past unwillingness to pay on the margins, both of those guys could be gone soon anyway.
So would either of them really be the final holdup in a deal for Irving? Consider me skeptical. But for now — and when taking into account the tepid market for Irving — it certainly makes sense that the Lakers aren’t rushing to throw them into a deal, either.