The Los Angeles Lakers appear to have a defined path back to contention this coming season. It involves reuniting LeBron James with former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving and building around a new Big Three of James, Irving and Anthony Davis.
This trio should be much more appealing to fans than last year's core of James, Davis and Russell Westbrook. Unlike Westbrook, Irving is a high-percentage shooter and a true perimeter threat.
Last season, he shot 46.9 percent from the floor and 41.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Irving's skill set complements James and Davis far better than what Westbrook brought to the table this past season. The good news is that Irving is on board with the idea.
"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.
The better news is that the wheels have already been set in motion for a trade that sends Westbrook to the Brooklyn Nets and brings Irving to L.A.
"The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are actively engaged in discussions on a trade package that would send star point guard Russell Westbrook to Brooklyn in exchange for star point guard Kyrie Irving, league sources told Yahoo Sports," Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports wrote.
Pursuing Irving is the best course of action for the Lakers this offseason, and L.A. might just pull it off. However, fans need to realize that a trade isn't going to come together quickly. While the Nets are open to making a deal, several obstacles remain.
For starters, Brooklyn is also dealing with Kevin Durant's trade request, and that's going to take time to resolve. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (h/t ESPN's Tom Bontemps), the Nets "plan to make a deal that allows them the greatest return of assets."
Presumably, a large portion of the league is interested in Durant, and Brooklyn is incentivized to let a bidding war dictate his market. The Nets are also likely to wait on Durant's future to unfold before moving on an Irving trade.
"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).
Only after Brooklyn knows where its roster and cap situation stand post-Durant can it accurately judges what it wants in an Irving deal. ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst appeared on First Take on Friday to discuss Brooklyn's approach to Irving (beginning at the 4:30 mark).
"Nets have no interest in accommodating Kyrie Irving. They have no interest in doing it," Windhorst said.
According to Windhorst, the Nets don't view Irving as a valuable trade asset and may only consider moving him as "salary ballast."
This meshes with Haynes' report:
"They want shooting guard Joe Harris—who is recovering from left ankle surgery—and his remaining $38.6 million owed over the next two years included in the deal, sources said," Haynes wrote. The Lakers have been disinclined to the inclusion of Harris, and are instead seeking the insertion of sharpshooter Seth Curry as part of the arrangement, sources said."
If the Nets are going to swap Irving for Westbrook, they also want to unload another unwieldy contract. That's a problem for the Lakers, who are already in luxury-tax territory. Harris is due $18.6 million this season, while Irving is due $36.9 million.
Acquiring those two for Westbrook's $47 million contract would leave Los Angeles with roughly $8.5 million more in salary than it is currently projected to spend.
This is a point on which Brooklyn may be unwilling to budge. The Lakers are not the only team interested in acquiring Irving.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, Irving has "several suitors" on the trade market—and that could include the Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers:
The problem for L.A. is that Dallas and Philadelphia both have lower projected payrolls than the Lakers. The other issue is Los Angeles' inflexibility on draft compensation—the Lakers have 2027 and 2029 first-round picks with which to work.
According to Haynes, draft compensation is an "ongoing talking point" between the Lakers and Nets.
Depending on which teams are eying Irving, Brooklyn may be able to get a better trade package than what Los Angeles can offer—and find a team more willing and able to take on Harris' contract.
As with Durant's situation, Brooklyn is likely to let things play out before flipping the switch on an Irving trade—even if a Durant deal comes together surprisingly quickly.
However, there is "palpable optimism" that a deal can be struck between the Nets and Lakers, according to Haynes. Irving-to-Los Angeles could very well happen, and it would make the Lakers a legitimate force in the Western Conference.
However, it isn't going to happen overnight, and Lakers fans will have to remain patient.