Another season of the Los Angeles Lakers failing to achieve their goal of winning a championship brings another offseason of potential blockbuster trade talks. And this time, the biggest name mentioned in any potential Lakers trade is Dallas Mavericks point guard Kyrie Irving.
By all accounts, the Lakers put together an amazing campaign just to make the postseason after a 2-10 start. Second, the season was successful only due to the fact that Los Angeles was able to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals after dumping Russell Westbrook for two key starters plus a role player at the trade deadline.
But the ultimate, and realistically the only, goal in Los Angeles is to raise another championship banner.
While the Lakers fell short of their goal, they need to be very careful when it comes to any potential blockbuster trade around a star, particularly Irving.
With the Lakers coming up short for the third straight season, combined with LeBron James’ postgame retirement talk following the team’s Game 4 loss, Los Angeles will be entering its biggest offseason since acquiring Anthony. Davis in 2019.
James made headlines after the Lakers’ 113-111 loss to the Denver Nuggets earlier in the week, leaving open the idea of a possible retirement. The comments surprised many considering James still has two years left, one is a player option worth more than $50.6 million for the 2024-25 season, and $97.1 million remaining on his contract with Los Angeles.
Considering that James still has a lot of juice left in his tank (he almost alone led the Lakers to victory in Game 4, scoring 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists), it would be hard to see him walk away. But one of the main reasons James brought up the idea of retirement aside from raw emotions after a tough loss is this: He knows that the Lakers, as currently built, aren’t good enough to win a championship.
Is an aging and injury-prone James/Anthony Davis-led duo surrounded by solid role players like Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell good enough to make the playoffs and make a deep run? Sure.
Is he good enough to win a championship and compete with younger, more athletic rosters like the Nuggets, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat? In short, no.
This is James’ way of sending a message to Los Angeles. And while it’s not directly tied to the Lakers making a move for Irving, it’s a message to the Lakers’ higher-ups that the organization needs to add that missing piece.
The Lakers’ options for a megastar via trade will likely be limited. While some have pitched the idea to Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young, the most likely and available option will be Irving.
We all know why this potential move interests James: he and Irving led the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title in 2016. Since their breakup led to Irving joining the Boston Celtics in 2017, they have reconciled and they are on good terms again. The idea of this former duo teaming up again was teased at this season’s trade deadline before the Brooklyn Nets finally decided the Mavericks’ offer was better than the Lakers’.
It also helps that Irving is durable, when he wants to play, and can handle the ball, which reduces James’ workload as his career progresses. It also doesn’t hurt that Irving can create his own shots and can be decisive when called upon, something that could have been the difference when the Lakers lost three games by six points or fewer to the Nuggets.
While the idea looks great on paper, it’s a disaster for two reasons: the salary cap and the fact that Irving is an enigma.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Lakers exulted when they pulled off a blockbuster trade for Westbrook. The thought process was this: The Lakers needed a third star to compete for a title, and Westbrook would carry the team when James and Davis were sidelined.
Except none of it was true. The Lakers won a championship with two stars and a cast of role players capable of playing strong defense and hitting the occasional 3-pointer. Second, Westbrook was not only a poor pairing with James, but he couldn’t lead Los Angeles to victory when either of his two leading stars was out.
Lastly, Westbrook’s contract (he was the Lakers’ highest-paid player during the 2021-22 season at $44.2 million) posed a big problem as Los Angeles was forced to fill out its roster with minimal veteran players on its roster. last stretches like Carmelo. Anthony, Wayne Ellington, and Dwight Howard.
And what did it result in?
Probably the most frustrating year and a half in Lakers basketball, as Los Angeles missed the playoffs in 2022 and nearly did it again in 2023 before trading Westbrook at the trade deadline.
Do the Lakers really want to do that again?
While it is possible to acquire Irving via sign-and-trade, the most likely path to acquiring Irving, since Los Angeles likely doesn’t have the salary cap space to simply sign him in free agency, would require the Lakers to basically be themselves. current core as he surrounds James, Davis, Irving with Reaves and a bunch of veteran minimal players.
Doesn’t this scenario sound terribly familiar?
As great a player as James is, he’s never been a great general manager. He has always had an affinity for playing with good friends of his, even if they don’t mesh well with his talent and his current teams. Remember, James played a role in acquiring Westbrook, as he personally recruited him.
The Lakers may need some help when it comes to getting over the hurdle and winning another championship. But while James sent a message to the organization with his suggestion of a possible retirement, that doesn’t mean Los Angeles should sacrifice the farm just because LeBron is desperate for a fifth ring as his career nears the end.
The Lakers will have options this season. But one option they should avoid is the temptation to add Irving.
There will be better, more cost-effective solutions to ensure Los Angeles is closer to a championship next season.
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