The Los Angeles Lakers have emerged as the most aggressive suitor for Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday the Lakers are the only team known to be exploring a sign-and-trade for Irving. However, the Nets haven't shown interest in the trade packages at Los Angeles' disposal, per Wojnarowski.
Because both sides have so much to gain from a continued partnership, many have questioned whether Irving would bolt the Nets.
The seven-time All-Star could pick up his $36.5 million player option and help Brooklyn chase a championship—a reasonable expectation with him, Kevin Durant and a healthy Ben Simmons on the roster. Then he could cash out with the Nets or another franchise after having rebuilt his value.
From the Nets' perspective, there's almost no path in which they lose Irving this offseason and get better. They also face the small matter of how his departure might impact Durant's commitment to the organization.
Based on how the situation has unfolded, though, a separation could happen.
The Athletic's Sam Amick reported there are people "very close to the situation who strongly believe Irving is trying to make his way to the Lakers here and everything else is just (necessary) noise."
According to Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News, Brooklyn has given the 30-year-old permission to seek sign-and-trade offers.
Unless Irving is willing to play for the mid-level exception, a clear hurdle stands in the way of a move to Los Angeles: The Lakers exhausted almost all of their trade assets to get Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported Irving might be prepared to do just that:
Jake Fischer @JakeLFischer
Sources with knowledge of the situation have increasingly believed Kyrie Irving's willingness to opt out of Brooklyn, sign the $6M taxpayer midlevel with the Lakers, where Irving can re-sign long-term in 2023. <br><br>More on <a href="https://twitter.com/getcallin?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@getcallin</a> with <a href="https://twitter.com/BigWos?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BigWos</a> at 7:30ET: <a href="https://t.co/Qyn7Obfi2P">https://t.co/Qyn7Obfi2P</a>
When it comes to a trade, Westbrook has the salary—$47.1 million player option for 2022-23—to make it work financially, but his performance has declined over multiple seasons.
One argument in Westbrook's favor was that he'd help raise a team's floor, though he'd potentially limit its ceiling in the playoffs. After the Lakers won 33 games and missed the playoffs, it's not clear how much the 2016-17 MVP can make a positive impact in the regular season.
Per Amick, the belief around the NBA is that the Nets "would have no interest in facilitating a Westbrook-Durant reunion," while Winfield called an Irving-Westbrook swap "unlikely."
Wojnarowski's report underlines how Brooklyn seemingly has a lot of leverage.
Irving has limited options as a free agent since so few teams will have max cap space, and the Nets would have to approve any sign-and-trade. If they hold firm and don't want Westbrook, for example, then that takes the Lakers off the table.
The dynamic will change drastically if Irving is comfortable taking a massive pay cut in the belief Los Angeles will be willing to shell out next summer.