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Why Kevin Durant Trade Rumors Give Lakers a New Path to Acquiring Kyrie Irving

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2022

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Heading into Thursday's opening of NBA free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers appeared poised to run it back next season with Russell Westbrook on the roster.

"Though a Westbrook trade is still possible, the Lakers are currently planning on beginning next season with him on the roster, multiple league sources told The Athletic," Jovan Buha wrote on Tuesday.

The Lakers were interested in acquiring Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving before Irving signed his player option for the 2022-23 season. In fact, Los Angeles was reportedly the only team interested in orchestrating a sign-and-trade for the 30-year-old.

"Outside of the Los Angeles Lakers, there are currently no known teams planning to pursue sign-and-trade deals for Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, sources told ESPN," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote on Monday.

The NBA landscape has changed dramatically over the last 24 hours, though.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Kevin Durant has requested a trade, and Nets general manager Sean Marks is "working" with him to facilitate one.

Durant's request potentially changes things for the Lakers in a big way, but not because Durant is a realistic trade target. According to Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic, a source has put the Lakers' chances of landing Durant at "zero."

Durant's trade request potentially opens the door for the Lakers to revisit a move on Irving and a Westbrook trade.

According to Buha and Amick, the interest in bringing Irving to L.A. was mutual, and the Lakers are likely to make another run:

"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 Monday, Irving was hyper-focused on landing with the Lakers in the days and weeks leading up to his opt-in decision."

L.A. is interested in reuniting Irving and LeBron James, and they may now have a second shot at it. There are a couple of reasons to believe that Durant's inevitable departure is the best thing Los Angeles could have hoped for this offseason.

For starters, Irving himself may want out, given Durant's request. Irving ultimately decided to return to Brooklyn to "fulfill his four-year commitment" to the Nets and to Durant, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. If Durant is no longer in Brooklyn, Irving has no commitment to uphold.

Irving's decision to opt-in likely had more to do with Durant than any loyalty to the Nets. According to Wojnarowski, Irving has had no contact with the organization since making the decision.

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had no contact with the franchise after Irving opted into his deal on Monday, and a sense of inevitability existed that Durant would eventually ask for a trade, sources tell ESPN. It happened today.

The other factor to consider is that with Durant on the way out, Brooklyn is likely staring down another rebuild. A core of Irving, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry isn't as attractive as one that includes Durant.

If Brooklyn believes it cannot contend without Durant, it may not only be willing to move Irving, but eager.

For the Lakers, this would be a terrific development. A trio of James, Irving and Anthony Davis is, on paper, better than a James, Davis, Westbrook lineup. Westbrook never meshed with the roster last season, while James has already won titles with both Davis and Irving.

Irving's ability to create shots and hit them at a high rate complements what James and Davis do best with the inside game, too. L.A. needs a third quality scorer, and Westbrook wasn't that this past season.

The Lakers would still face some stiff competition in the Western Conference, but they would be a more legitimate title contender with Irving on the roster instead of Westbrook.

The big question is how the Lakers can now make an Irving deal work.

In an ideal world, Irving would negotiate a buyout, as John Wall did with the Houston Rockets after opting in for the season. This would make Irving a free agent and able to sign with Los Angeles on the mid-level exception.

Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer told NBA insider Marc Stein that Irving had considered playing on the mid-level exception in L.A. this season before opting in. Irving will have little leverage with the Nets, though, if they know they can get something in return via a trade.

L.A. would convince Brooklyn to take on Westbrook's $47 million salary as part of a trade. However, as Buha and Amick outlined, a simple Westbrook-for-Irving swap wouldn't work—and things could get complicated:

"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."

Los Angeles could also consider dealing Westbrook first—likely including future draft picks to convince a team to take on his salary—and then make a play for Irving. The problem there is that there's no telling what Brooklyn will want for Irving without knowing what it can get for Durant first.

"I think Kyrie is going to have wait this out because we're not going to really know what the Nets are going to want to trade him for until we see what Kevin Durant gets traded for," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on Get Up (h/t ClutchPoints).

Right now, the Lakers' most likely path to acquiring Irving involves a direct trade with Brooklyn that may or may not involve a third or even fourth team. It will be complicated and may not transpire until after Durant is dealt—and it hinges entirely on Brooklyn's willingness to trade Irving to L.A.

The good news for the Lakers is that Irving is eager to join them.

"Irving is telling everybody he plans on going to L.A., meaning the Lakers, as soon as he possibly can," ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said Thursday on NBA Today.

Thanks to Durant's trade request, bringing Irving to L.A. is again a very real possibility.

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