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San Antonio Spurs May Hold Keys to a Kyrie Irving-Russell Westbrook Trade

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusFeatured Columnist IJuly 8, 2022

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers have held preliminary discussions on a Kyrie Irving trade, and sources indicate the teams are exploring the potential of pulling the San Antonio Spurs into a multi-team deal.

The Lakers, who sources indicated are interested in moving out of Russell Westbrook into Irving, may need to be patient. Westbrook's $47.1 million expiring contract isn't appealing to the Nets, who currently project to be above the league's $150.3 million luxury tax threshold.

League sources stressed that Brooklyn views resolving Kevin Durant's trade request as a significantly higher priority than clearing Irving's final $36.9 million of the Nets' books.

But the Irving/Westbrook disaster could eventually be resolved with the Spurs help, with San Antonio taking on Westbrook's salary into cap room for draft considerations. That would help the Nets generate a massive trade exception for as much as Irving's entire salary.


Lakers Hesitant to Overpay

Both the Lakers and Nets have expensive former All-Stars they'd like to relocate. Neither player has a positive trade value based on contract size and situation.

At worst, the Lakers can hold onto Westbrook and not overpay in a deal for Irving.

And the Nets can mimic what the Houston Rockets did with John Wall last season and just keep Irving under contract and off the court.

If the Lakers are going to give up value to get Irving, the team needs resolution with James on his expiring contract. Ideally, James and Irving (via extend-and-trade) would commit through 2024-25. That would coincide with the end of Anthony Davis' deal.

A more realistic outcome might be player options for James and Irving that match Davis' early termination option after the 2023-24 campaign. Whether it's one or two additional years, that level of certainty might be enough for the Lakers to include a first-round pick in a deal.

L.A. can send out two distant future first round picks in 2027 and 2029, although both could go one year prior with the necessary protection. But that pick's availability in a two-team trade would likely depend on who else the Nets send with Irving to match salary.

A healthy shooter like Seth Curry, who is on an $8.5 million expiring deal, would hold more appeal than Joe Harris. While Harris is also a gifted shooter, he underwent reconstructive ligament surgery in his ankle in March and is owed $19.9 million for 2023-24. Curry probably yields the Nets a first from the Lakers but not Harris.

Expanded to a three-way deal, the Spurs would also need to clear additional salary for Westbrook. Leaving out Curry and Harris, the Lakers could land either Doug McDermott (owed $27.5 million over the next two seasons) or Josh Richardson (expiring at $12.2 million) from San Antonio.


Spurs Rebuilding

With the Spurs trading Derrick White to the Boston Celtics before the February trade deadline and now Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks, the franchise is believed to be fully committed to rebuilding.

Teams consider veterans like Jakob Poeltl, McDermott and Richardson to be available. Westbrook wouldn't appeal to the Spurs and would presumably take a buyout, presumably for at least the minimum he could get with another franchise (nearly $3 million). With McDermott out and a Westbrook buyout, the Spurs would only add an approximate net of $16.7 million—essentially to buy a future first from the Lakers.

That could expand to include both Richardson and McDermott to Los Angeles, provided L.A. included either Kendrick Nunn or Talen Horton Tucker. The Lakers would have more interest in Richardson than McDermott.


Netting Poeltl?

The challenge for the Nets is understanding its own needs post-Durant trade. Would Brooklyn have a competitive roster short an experienced center? Poeltl could be folded into a three-way Irving deal (though Brooklyn would need to further incentivize the Spurs).

That uncertainty is why an Irving resolution may take some time unless an immediate opportunity is a no-brainer for Brooklyn. But that's also why a quicker decision yielding a trade exception at up to $36.9 million may hold some appeal.

The Portland Trail Blazers recently acquired Jerami Grant ($21 million this season) from the Detroit Pistons via the CJ McCollum trade exception without having to send out any active players in trade (just draft considerations). That exception, generated in February, took almost five months to bear fruit. Brooklyn would have a full year to use an Irving trade exception.

Another factor to consider is Irving's $5.5 million trade bonus, which would be Brooklyn's obligation if he's dealt. Irving can use that as a weapon, agreeing to waive it if exclusively dealt to the Lakers (assuming another team is even making a bid).

Meanwhile, the Nets have no obligation to honor Durant's trade request and no requirement to deal Irving. But Brooklyn may have an opportunity with the Lakers and Spurs that may not be available for long. San Antonio will (and should) be greedy for facilitating a deal, provided all three teams can agree.

If not, the Spurs may find other teams looking to take advantage of its cap space, further limiting the Nets' flexibility in dumping Kyrie's salary.


Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.

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