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How the Lakers getting Rui Hachimura may have prompted Kyrie Irving’s trade demand

There is a convincing case to be made that the Lakers dealing for Rui Hachimura may have been the first domino in a cascade that eventually led to Kyrie Irving making his latest trade demand.

Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

If I would have told you 12 days ago that the Los Angeles Lakers acquiring Rui Hachimura would have semi-directly led to Kyrie Irving demanding that the Brooklyn Nets deal him before the NBA trade deadline, you probably would have called me some combination of crazy, a conspiracy theorist, or someone just hunting for clicks.

However, while I admittedly would not have predicted those events back then, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype — with the help of some of his trusty league sources — made a convincing case that may have been exactly what happened in his story published on Saturday morning:

After the Lakers traded for Rui Hachimura, it signaled to the rest of the league Los Angeles would bypass prioritizing cap space for the summer to chase star free agents like Irving. Two days later, Irving’s agent, Shetellia Riley Irving, went on the record with Bleacher Report expressing a desire to get an extension done with the Nets. Nine days later, after failing to get the desired terms, Irving requested a trade from Brooklyn.

This sequence of events was no coincidence to some around the league. After flirting with the possibility of a sign-and-trade to Los Angeles during the offseason that ultimately never happened, the Lakers were considered either a potential free-agent destination for Irving or a means of negotiating leverage against the Nets this summer.

Acquiring Hachimura essentially removed that free agency possibility since the Lakers cut into their future projected cap space. Once that happened, Irving could get max money or close to it one of two ways: an extension with Brooklyn or trade to the Lakers or another team who’d acquire his Bird Rights with the expectation of a new long-term contract.

I’ll be honest: Until Scotto pointed it out, I hadn’t connected these specific dots, but the timeline does line up exactly as he says:

  • Jan. 23 — Lakers send Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks to Wizards for Hachimura, and indicate in subsequent leaks that they want to re-sign him and “aren’t really concerned” about having cap space this summer (they project to have, functionally, around $13 million, as things stand today).
  • Jan. 25 — Irving’s agent/stepmom tells Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report, on the record, that “Around Kyrie and staying with the Nets? I have reached out to the Nets regarding this... We have had no significant conversations to date. The desire is to make Brooklyn home, with the right type of extension, which means the ball is in the Nets’ court to communicate now if their desire is the same.”
  • Unknown date before Feb. 3 — The Nets respond to that attempt at public negotiation by offering Irving a contract that had guarantees “tied to the team winning a championship,” according to Haynes — you know, the same reporter that Shetellia Riley Irving went on the record with before. So we can probably trust that info, and it’s also easy to understand why that would have been a nonstarter for Irving.
  • Feb. 3 — Irving makes his latest trade demand, a move that Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that “rival teams” think the Nets may consider “a leverage play on contract talks” which “could affect how the organization moves with regards to possible Irving deals.”

When you line up all the events like that, it’s hard not to channel one’s inner Irving, put on your trusty tinfoil hat, and connect some dots. Irving and his camp may have genuinely felt their options dwindling in the wake of the Lakers’ move for Hachimura, which could have prompted them to blow up this recent, rare dose of stability the Nets have had in their latest attempt to get him paid by Brooklyn or another suitor.

Will that strategy work out? Based on the Dallas Mavericks and Lakers reportedly not rushing to offer Irving a max yet, that’s to be determined. But it certainly livened up what projected previously to be a boring trade deadline, so I guess at the very least, it appears we have the Lakers — and Rui Hachimura — to thank for that.

For all the latest heading into the NBA trade deadline, check out our Silver Screen and Roll Lakers trade rumors tracker.

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