In a week that has already seen reports that LeBron James might retire and that the Lakers have no intention of offering D’Angelo Russell the maximum contract they could give him, speculation about whether or not the team will pursue Dallas Mavericks free agent and LeBron’s former championship teammate, Kyrie Irving — and if James will push them to do so — has only grown in intensity.
None of that makes it certain that the Lakers will chase Irving for the third time in the last calendar year, but as speculation swirls, the scuttlebutt NBA insider Marc Stein dropped in his Saturday night Substack dispatch was notable: Not only is it not clear the Lakers will even seriously pursue Irving, but it’s also a near certainty that the Mavericks have no interest in Russell as a sign-and-trade consolation prize if Irving tells them he’s leaving.
Like we’ve seen with the Lakers firing off every indication that they will match any Austin Reaves offer sheet, it’s certainly free agency posturing season. But from someone as plugged in on all things Mavericks as Stein has been for decades since his time on the Mavs beat, this is still a notable confirmation, even if it was always the most logical conclusion (from Stein’s Substack, emphasis mine):
While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving.
Again, this was always expected. Dallas was never going to leak in May, more than a month ahead of free agency, that they’d love to help Irving go elsewhere in a sign-and-trade. It’s clear that they’d like to re-sign their prized trade deadline acquisition, despite the team’s lack of success in falling short of even the play-in race. Beyond how they feel about Irving, they certainly weren’t going to anonymously kick him out the door out of any sheer excitement for adding Russell after the brutal Western Conference Finals he just had.
Does any of that mean they’d never consider Russell (and maybe a draft pick) a consolation prize rather than lose Irving for nothing if he wants to go to the Lakers anyway? Maybe not, but we can certainly file it down as unlikely, both because of this report, and because logic dictates it would be hard — but not impossible, given his track record for unpredictability! — for Irving to get to the Lakers without Dallas’ help.
The Mavericks can offer Irving more than any other suitor, an approximately “five-year, $272 million contract,” according to Bleacher Report cap expert Eric Pincus, who also reported this week in the same story that some around the league believe Dallas has a “handshake agreement” with Irving for that number already.
Despite some posturing from Irving’s camp that he would take the mid-level from the Lakers last summer, his actions in opting in with the Nets and then demanding a trade when they didn’t want to extend him after he showed up at work for two weeks demonstrate that not even he can likely turn down that much money. Especially not when the most the Lakers can offer him outright (i.e., without a sign-and-trade) is likely around $35 million a year, and that’s with letting basically their entire roster outside of Anthony Davis and LeBron James go.
Would Irving really take a nearly $20 million pay cut from his max and fewer years on his deal in a state with significant income tax to leave a Mavs team ready to pony up to keep him in a state with no income tax? Again, Kyrie is unpredictable, but no matter how much he claims he wants to dare to be different, human nature is not.
That leaves the sign-and-trade possibility, which even with Russell going back to the Mavericks, is extremely complicated financially for reasons our own Jacob Rude outlined this week, and would hard cap the Lakers:
LeBron, AD, Jarred Vanderbilt and Max Christie would come in at $93.91 million. No matter what Reaves’ deal is next season, the figure next year would be at $11.36 million, bringing the Lakers total to $105.27 million. Back during the regular season, reports suggested Hachimura and his camp wanted a deal in the range of his $18.8 million cap hold. So, for simplicity sake, let’s say he gets a deal starting at $18.8 next season, bringing the overall total up to $124.07 million.
That leaves the Lakers roughly $45.43 million in wiggle room to both offer Kyrie a contract in this sign-and-trade and fill out the rest of the roster. In this specific scenario, that’s again going to require Kyrie to take a pay cut. The workaround for this could be a series of short-term deals for Kyrie that lets the Lakers gain bird rights along the way and eventually give him raises, but for a player as erratic as Kyrie, is that the best plan for himself to be on constant one-year deals?
You can renounce Rui in this scenario, giving you about $64.23 million to then offer Kyrie potentially a max and fill out your roster with any remaining exceptions and veteran’s minimum deals.
But the hard cap is as it sounds: a hard cap. You can not go over that cap to sign players. So the Lakers would have either seven players with Rui, or six players without him, and between eight and nine roster spots to fill out with veteran’s minimum deals again.
The Lakers could also theoretically trade Davis (making $40 million next season) and salary filler for Irving in a sign-and-trade that would require less of a pay cut from him, but that would be such a catastrophically stupid decision that I will only briefly acknowledge it in this sentence and not analyze it beyond that. The math could work, but the logic does not.
So combining Dallas’ lack of interest in Russell, how complicated it would be to both get the Mavericks to cooperate and fill out the roster under the hard cap, and how unlikely it is that Kyrie takes a gigantic pay cut just to team up with LeBron again, and it’s extremely unlikely that the third time is the charm for the Lakers adding Irving. And honestly, given the increased flexibility and depth that will give Los Angeles, that may not be the worst thing, and that’s without factoring in having to have Kyrie Irving on your team, which has generally been a nightmarish headache without much winning to accompany it for the last half-decade or so.
The Lakers will surely look to find ways to improve both this offseason and at the deadline, but while it’s totally possible to find ways to make the math work and add Irving in a vacuum, all of the noise so far suggests that is much easier and more feasible in the trade machine than it is in reality.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.