Kevin Durant shocked the NBA world a few hours before free agency began, requesting a trade from the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday afternoon according to The Athletic‘s Shams Charania.
The ripple effects of the Durant trade demand have the power to reshape the league – including the Los Angeles Lakers‘future. Only two days have passed since fellow Nets co-star Kyrie Irving decided to opt into the final year of his deal, with the league-wide rumblings about a possible Durant trade request dying down as a result and many league observers assuming (incorrectly) that Brooklyn’s situation had been stabilized for the coming season.
Yet now that Durant has formally asked for 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 indicated as much in the aftermath of the Durant trade request, and it makes all sorts of sense that the Durant decision ups the Lakers’ odds here. As The Athletic reported on MondayIrving was hyper-focused on landing with the Lakers in the days and weeks leading up to his opt-in decision.
As The Athletic reported earlier this week, the Lakers are currently planning on beginning next season with Russell Westbrook on the roster. They have been reluctant to attach a first-round pick (2027, 2028 and / or 2029) to Westbrook’s $ 47.1 million expiring contract, which has been the league-wide minimum asking price.
But the chance to add a player of Irving’s ilk could certainly change that internal calculus, as it could elevate the Lakers’ ceiling and return them to contender status.
A one-for-one Irving-Westbrook swap doesn’t work financially. The Nets would either have to throw in an extra contract to make the math work, or include a third and / or fourth team to iron things out.
The framework of a deal could look something like this: Irving and a second Nets player (Seth Curry, the newly acquired Royce O’Neale or Day’Ron Sharpe) in exchange for Westbrook and the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 first-round selections. If the Nets don’t want to take on Westbrook’s salary, a third team could enter the mix, with one of the Lakers’ picks and potentially Talen Horton-Tucker and / or Kendrick Nunn being involved.
Irving would be a much cleaner fit alongside James and Davis than Westbrook was last season and projects to be this season.
Irving is an annual 50-40-90 threat. He’s a career 39.3 percent 3-point shooter who’s shot better than 40 percent on 3s in six of the past eight seasons. His elite shooting and ability to navigate screens and move without the ball make him tailor-made to adapt to life as a third option – something he did, at times, in Brooklyn alongside Durant and James Harden.
Irving’s gravity would alleviate some of the Lakers’ spacing concerns (especially in comparison to Westbrook). He’s already proven his on-court chemistry with James, famously leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals. He would make for a dynamic pick-and-roll partner with James, who acted as a roller more than ever last season as he shifted more to center, and Davis, who hasn’t meshed with Westbrook and Dennis Schröder the way he would with Irving, considering the two former names were non-threats as shooters.
Defensively, Irving and Westbrook are close to a wash. Both players are minus-defenders. Irving doesn’t have the size or athleticism Westbrook has, but he’s generally shown more focus on that end, and makes fewer glaring and costly mistakes. Irving can move his feet well and pressure the ball at the point of attack, and his quick hands help him poke the ball loose and deflect passes.
As for the prospect of the Lakers trying to get in on the Durant sweepstakes themselves, perhaps by making Davis available in the process, a source close to the situation put the chances at “zero.” Their focus, it seems, is on Irving. And vice versa.
The Lakers addressed some of their roster concerns on Thursday, getting younger and more athletic with the additions of 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 who fits much better than the incumbent.
Irving would not arrive free of drawbacks. There is the previous fallout with James in Cleveland, his acrimonious exits in Cleveland, Boston and now Brooklyn, the off-court madness of last season, his day-to-day availability and the general drama that has followed him around the past few seasons . But the Lakers, backed into a corner by their own doing, are out of better alternatives.
The Irving trade could blow up in their faces like the Westbrook deal did, but the basketball fit is much cleaner. Irving is much better than Westbrook at their respective stages of their future Hall of Fame careers.
The Lakers are the most logical Irving destination. Irving wants to be there. Whether the Nets are interested in taking back Westbrook’s contract – with a couple of future first-round picks attached – remains to be seen.
But with a narrow championship window – James will be entering his 20th season in the fall – this is the time for the Lakers to go all-in on making this season’s team as competitive as possible and righting their wrongs from last offseason.
(Photo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)