When virtuoso guard Kyrie Irving asked to be traded by the Brooklyn Nets, it seemed to open a path toward championship contention for the Los Angeles Lakers.
They had attempted to trade for Irving in the summer, and there have been rumors that Irving would like to join the Lakers, a move that would’ve reunited him with LeBron James.
But the Dallas Mavericks swooped in on Sunday and quickly put together a package of Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 unprotected first-round draft pick and two second-round picks that Brooklyn accepted.
Perhaps the Lakers cannot be blamed too much, as they made a real effort to land Irving.
The Lakers were willing to give up significant draft capital
One sticking point in any major trade the Lakers have been trying to make lately has been their reluctance to include either their 2027 or 2029 first-round draft picks, which are the only first-round picks they can include in a trade right now per NBA rules.
General manager Rob Pelinka recently said the team would be willing to part with one or both picks if such a move resulted in it getting a player or multiple players who would make it into a title contender.
According to Chris Haynes, the Lakers were offering both of those picks to the Nets as part of their package for Irving.
Sources: Brooklyn Nets received Los Angeles Lakers’ proposal that did include team’s two first-round picks (2027, 2029) and Phoenix Suns’ offer of Chris Paul, Jae Crowder and unspecified picks: @NBATV pic.twitter.com/cJuABbaYGy
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 6, 2023
Many teams have seen those picks as L.A.’s most attractive, and possibly its only attractive, assets on the trade market. It remains to be seen if it will offer them as part of a potential trade for someone else who could help move the needle.
The Nets reportedly didn't want to help the Lakers
Although the Nets and Lakers were reportedly engaged in talks this weekend to try to complete an Irving trade, it appears Nets ownership didn’t want Irving to head to L.A.
Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai held a “presumed objective” to trade Kyrie Irving “somewhere other than the Lakers… his preferred destination.”
(via @TheSteinLine, https://t.co/qhmFngWJgO) pic.twitter.com/4KOE1V7aCJ
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) February 6, 2023
Many people, especially Lakers fans, feel that there is a sentiment among rival teams that they want to avoid helping the Purple and Gold at all costs, even if it means accepting a lesser trade offer or allowing a player to leave in free agency. It is debatable whether this is true, however, not to mention hard to prove empirically.
Was Tsai more motivated by a refusal to help the Lakers or by a refusal to accommodate Irving and send him to the team he reportedly preferred above all others?
Perhaps the Lakers weren't completely sold on Irving
Although Irving could’ve made the Lakers the favorites to reach the NBA Finals or even win the world championship, he would’ve come with substantial baggage.
He was suspended for eight games earlier this season after promoting a documentary with antisemitic content. Last season, he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which resulted in him sitting out much of the schedule.
Reportedly, these off-the-court incidents made some in the Lakers organization reluctant to go all-in on an Irving trade.
Via The Orange County Register (h/t Lakers Daily):
“While one person with knowledge of the team’s interest in Irving told Southern California News Group that high-level team officials had serious concerns about his professionalism and availability – especially considering that the Lakers would have had to at least consider extending him on max or near-max money beyond this season – according to Bleacher Report, the team was willing to part with both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks to get the deal done.”
Los Angeles also didn’t love the idea of giving Irving the type of contract extension he had demanded from the Nets — a demand that led to his trade request.
Via The Athletic:
“As reported by the Los Angeles Times and The Athletic’s Sam Amick, the Lakers were seeking to sign Irving to a two-year, $80-plus million extension upon acquiring him, the most they could offer before June 30. That would have tied Irving’s tenure to LeBron James, who is under contract through the 2024-25 season (with a player option for the final year). Irving, however, preferred to enter 2023 free agency, with the goal of signing a four-year deal for about $198 million after June 30. The uncertainty regarding Irving’s future in Los Angeles beyond this season stopped the Lakers from increasing their offer.”
Perhaps if it weren’t for those concerns, the Lakers might have included a bit more capital that would’ve gotten the Nets to say yes.
“Second, the Lakers were not willing to include Austin Reaves and/or rookie Max Christie in the deal if Irving was not going to agree to the two-year contract extension, according to league sources. The Lakers view both players as key members of their young supporting cast, not merely throw-ins.”
It is back to the drawing board for them, which means trying to work out a less attractive trade in order to give themselves some sort of chance at not only making the playoffs but also making some serious noise there.