LOS ANGELES — After completing one of the worst trades in franchise history just last year, the Lakers have a chance to make things right by acquiring another superstar: Kyrie Irving.
Last July, the team shipped out Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and the 22nd overall pick in the 2021 draft to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook and two future draft picks. They wanted to pair the former MVP with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and put together what they thought was a clear championship-caliber team.
It was a disaster.
The team finished the season at 33-49, missed the postseason and the play-in tournament and was forced to enter the offseason with no money and little hope. Westbrook (obviously) opted into his $47.1 million contract, and the Lakers had only their mid-level exception and veteran minimum contracts to lure free agents.
GM Rob Pelinka and new head coach Darvin Ham have done an incredible job in filling out the roster with younger, more defensive-minded players such as Lonnie Walker IV, 23, Thomas Bryant, 24, and 22-year-old Troy Brown Jr.
But the Lakers may not be done yet.
Hours before free agency began, it was reported that Kevin Durant wanted out of Brooklyn, sending shockwaves across the league. This came just days after Kyrie Irving opted into his contract with the Nets, all but eliminating his chance to play in LA.
It appeared that he was committed to running it back in Brooklyn, and he, Durant and Ben Simmons would find a way to make it work.
But after the Durant news dropped, all hell broke loose.
While more than 15 teams reportedly reached out to Brooklyn regarding Durant, the Lakers had other plans in mind.
The Lakers and Nets were reportedly in talks surrounding Irving, and it seemed as if the Lakers were not only the favorite to land him, but the only team interested in his services.
Initial reports suggested the Lakers didn’t want to take back Joe Harris, who has two years and $38.6 million remaining on his contract. The Lakers also didn’t want to send back multiple first-round picks in 2027 and 2029, according to reports.
As of Tuesday, Shams Charania of The Athletic even reported that the teams were nowhere near a deal–and it may not happen at all.
But the Lakers can’t let this opportunity slip away.
Entering this offseason, the Lakers’ main priority was finding a new home for Westbrook. It almost didn’t matter what they got in return — they just needed to find a way to make this team a contender. A team with Westbrook, James and Davis was clearly not one.
The urgency is high as LeBron, who is entering his 20th season, is a free agent at year’s end. The two sides have yet to discuss an extension.
But now, they not only have a chance to move Westbrook and the $47.1 million owed to him, they have the opportunity to bring back one of the most skilled point guards of this generation. A player who has played as James’ running mate before, and a player who won a ring alongside James as the second-best player on the team. It’s truly a no-brainer.
Pelinka needs to be aggressive in his pursuit of Irving. He can’t try to be cute. He can’t try to over-negotiate.
Pelinka needs to do everything in his power to make a deal work, and reunite Irving and James in what could turn out to be one of the greatest trades in franchise history.
If the Lakers need to take back Harris, who’s recovering from ankle surgery that kept him sidelined for all but 14 games last season, then so be it.
If the Lakers have to give up first-round picks in 2027 or 2029–or even both–then so be it.
It’s okay for Pelinka to negotiate a little. Maybe there’s a way to either take on Harris or give up first-rounders. Perhaps the Lakers find a way to add potential trade target Seth Curry, whose name came up in trade talks. Whatever the case, Pelinka can’t overdo it.
He can’t waste this golden opportunity.
If the Lakers begin next season with Westbrook on their roster, they’re telling LeBron that they care more about the future than the present. They’re telling LeBron they’re okay with wasting one more year of him to have flexibility in the 2023 offseason. They’re telling LeBron that this season doesn’t really matter.
So if the Lakers want a chance at a title this year–and maybe more importantly, to re-sign James before he has a chance to hit the open market–they must act now.
This is your chance at a redo, Rob Pelinka. Don’t let it slip away.