Kevin Durant shocked the NBA world hours before free agency began when he called for a trade from the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday afternoon the athlete‘s Shams Charania.
The impact of Durant’s trade demand has the power to reshape the league – including the future of the Los Angeles Lakers. Just two days have passed since Nets co-star Kyrie Irving decided to settle for the final year of his deal, with league-wide rumblings over a possible Durant trade request dying as a result and many league observers (wrongly) believing it went out Brooklyn’s situation had stabilized for the coming season.
Yet now that Durant has officially requested a trade, a natural next question has emerged: Does this mean the possibility of Irving reuniting with LeBron James and the Lakers is alive again?
Yes. Very much so.
A source close to the situation hinted as much after Durant’s trade request, and it makes perfect sense that Durant’s decision would increase the Lakers’ chances here. As the athlete As reported Monday, Irving was hyper-focused on landing with the Lakers in the days and weeks leading up to his opt-in decision.
As the athlete As reported earlier this week, the Lakers are currently planning to start next season with Russell Westbrook on the roster. They were reluctant to attach a first-round pick (2027, 2028, and/or 2029) to Westbrook’s expiring $47.1 million contract, which was the league-wide reserve price.
But the chance of adding a player like Irving could certainly change that internal calculus, as it could raise the Lakers’ ceiling and return them to contender status.
A one-for-one Irving-Westbrook swap doesn’t work financially. The Nets would have to either get an additional deal to make the math work, or bring in a third and/or fourth team to iron things out.
The framework of a deal might go something like this: Irving and a second Nets player (Seth Curry, newly acquired Royce O’Neale, or Day’Ron Sharpe) in exchange for Westbrook and the 2027 and 2029 Lakers first-round draft picks. If the Nets don’t want to pick up Westbrook’s salary, a third team could enter the mix involving one of the Lakers’ picks and possibly Talen Horton-Tucker and/or Kendrick Nunn.
Irving would fit alongside James and Davis much more cleanly than Westbrook did last season and this season.
Irving is a 50-40-90 annual threat. He’s a career 39.3 percent 3-point shooter who has shot more than 40 percent on 3s in six of the last eight seasons. His excellent shooting and ability to navigate screens and move off the ball make him perfect for adapting to life as a third option – something he sometimes did in Brooklyn alongside Durant and James Harden.
Irving’s gravity would alleviate some of the Lakers’ distance issues (especially compared to Westbrook). He already demonstrated his on-court chemistry with James by leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals. He would be a dynamic pick-and-roll partner with James acting as a roller more than ever last season as he switched more to the middle, and Davis not as dovetailed with Westbrook and Dennis Schroeder as he would do Irving, considering the two previous names posed no threat as shooters.
Defensively, Irving and Westbrook are close to a wash. Both players are minus defenders. Irving doesn’t have the size or athleticism that Westbrook has, but he’s generally been more focused on that goal and making less noticeable and costly mistakes. Irving can move his feet well and put pressure on the ball in attack, and his quick hands help him break the ball and deflect passes.
As for the prospect of the Lakers attempting to enter the Durant Sweepstakes themselves, perhaps by making Davis available in the process, a source close to the situation has put the odds at “nil.” Her focus seems to be on Irving. And vice versa.
Addressing some of their roster concerns Thursday, the Lakers got younger and sportier with Damian Jones, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. But overall talent, size, and 3-point shooting are still glaring weaknesses. Irving would address two of those three needs, giving the Lakers a legitimate third All-Star and one that’s a much better fit than the incumbent.
Irving would not arrive free of disadvantages. There’s James’ earlier run-ins in Cleveland, his acrimonious departures in Cleveland, Boston and now Brooklyn, last season’s off-court insanity, his daily availability, and the general drama that has dogged him over the past few seasons. But the Lakers, cornered under their own steam, have no better alternatives.
The Irving trade might blow their minds like the Westbrook deal, but the basketball fit is a lot cleaner. Irving is far better than Westbrook at their respective stages of their future careers in the Hall of Fame.
The Lakers are the most logical target for Irving. Irving wants to be there. Whether the Nets are interested in repossessing Westbrook’s contract — with a few future first-round picks — remains to be seen.
But with a tight championship window — James will start his 20th season in the fall — this is the time for the Lakers to do whatever it takes to make this season’s team as competitive as possible and correct their mistakes from last offseason.
(Photo by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)