LOS ANGELES – After completing one of the worst deals in franchise history just last year, the Lakers have a chance to make things right by having another star: Kyrie Irving.
Last July, the team shipped Kyle Kuzma, Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, Montrezel 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 team of championship caliber.
It was a disaster.
The team finished the season at 33-49, missed the post-season and play cycle and had to go into the off-season with no money and little hope. Westbrook (obviously) chose his $47.1 million contract, and the Lakers had only a mid-level and minimal veteran contracts exception to attract free agents.
General manager Rob Pelinka and new head coach Darvin Hamm have done an amazing job filling the roster with younger, more defensive-minded players like Lonnie Walker IV, 23, Thomas Bryant, 24, and 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 shock waves through the league. This came just days after Kyrie Irving picked his contract with the Nets, all but eliminating his chance to play in Los Angeles.
He seems committed to restarting it in Brooklyn, and he, Durant, and Ben Simmons will find a way to make it work.
But after the news of Durant fell, all hell broke out.
While more than 15 teams are reported to have contacted Brooklyn regarding Durant, the Lakers had other plans in mind.
The Lakers and Nets were reportedly in talks about Irving, and it looked as if the Lakers were not only the favorites for his relegation, but the only team interested in his services.
Initial reports indicated that the Lakers did not want to bring back Joe Harris, who has two years and $38.6 million left on his contract. The Lakers also did not want to return multiple first-round picks in 2027 and 2029, according to reports.
As of Tuesday, Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the teams were nowhere near a deal – and that may not happen at all.
But the Lakers can’t let this opportunity slip away.
Entering this season, the Lakers’ main priority has been 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 competitive. Clearly a team with Westbrook, James and Davis wasn’t one.
The urgency is great because LeBron, entering his 20th season, became a free agent at the end of the year. The two sides have not yet discussed the extension.
But now, not only do they have a chance to move Westbrook and the $47.1 million he owes, they have the chance to bring back one of the most skilled point guards of this generation. A player who has played James’ running mate before, and a player who won a ring alongside James as the second best player on the team. It really is a no-brainer.
Pelinka needs to be aggressive in his pursuit of Irving. He can’t even try to be nice. He can’t try to over-negotiate.
Pelinka needs to do everything in his power to make the deal work, reuniting Irving and James in what could turn out to be one of the greatest deals in franchise history.
If the Lakers need to bring back Harris, who has recovered from ankle surgery that kept him out in all but 14 games last season, so be it.
If the Lakers have to give up first-round picks in 2027 or 2029 — or even both — so be it.
It’s okay to negotiate a little Pelinka. Maybe there is a way to beat Harris or do without the first rounds. Perhaps the Lakers will find a way to add a potential trade target to Seth Curry, whose name has appeared in the trade talks. Whatever the case, Pelinka can’t overstate it.
He cannot miss this golden opportunity.
If the Lakers start 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 another year of him to have a resilient 2023 season. They’re telling LeBron that this season doesn’t really matter.
So if the Lakers want a chance to win this year’s title – and perhaps most importantly, re-sign James before he has a chance to hit the open market – they should act now.
This is your chance to replay, Rob Pelinka. Don’t let it slip away.