Though they're coming off of a disastrous 33-49 campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers have remained in the spotlight for a couple of reasons this offseason. They still have arguably the league's biggest personality in LeBron James, and they've also been linked to a blockbuster trade that would send Kyrie Irving to L.A.
James, who won a championship alongside Irving with the Cleveland Cavaliers, appears to be the driving force behind an Irving trade.
"James, I’m told, wants to see Irving in Lakerland more than anyone," NBA insider Marc Stein wrote earlier this month (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll). "What other team, furthermore, has a LeBron-sized personality with the experience to cope with all the chaos that comes with adding Kyrie? James, remember, has often thrived in chaos."
Los Angeles is looking to dump last season's biggest disappointment, Russell Westbrook, in an Irving deal. The move would represent a massive upgrade and would reunite James with Irving, a player he knows he can win with.
However, Los Angeles isn't putting all of its proverbial eggs in this one particular trade basket. The Lakers have been busy adding secondary pieces—like Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson—and are reportedly exploring options other than Irving.
Specifically, the Lakers are seeking shooters.
According to Stein (h/t Bleacher Report's Tim Daniels), the Lakers are "definitely" interested in acquiring a shooter like Buddy Hield of the Indiana Pacers or the Houston Rocket's Eric Gordon.
This is a smart approach by the Lakers, who need to explore other options in case an Irving trade never materializes. We saw last season that a core of James, Westbrook and Anthony Davis wasn't enough to contend in the Western Conference. That group could be potent, though, with quality shooting on the perimeter.
Until an Irving trade is finalized, the Lakers and general manager Rob Pelinka must accept the fact that going into 2022 with Westbrook is a very real possibility. And the latest Brooklyn Nets rumors suggest that a trade won't be finalized any time soon.
There have been rumblings about the Nets including shooter Joe Harris on an Irving-to-L.A. package. According to Brian Lewis of the New York Post, however, Brooklyn isn't looking to move him.
"They don't want to trade him. They are not shopping him, and he is not a salary dump," Lewis said in a Spotify Live with Marc Stein (h/t Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway). "I'm told that they want to keep him. It's just a matter of, 'Can they keep him in whatever deal might be upcoming for Kyrie?'"
This contradicts an earlier report from Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes that indicated Brooklyn was looking to move Harris, while the Lakers wanted Seth Curry as part of the trade:
"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."
In other words, the Nets aren't close to deciding what they're willing to accept as far as an Irving trade goes. That's not at all surprising because Brooklyn may first want to move Kevin Durant before it even engages in serious Irving trade talks.
The Nets have no reason to rush an Irving trade before they know what they're getting and/or giving up in a Durant deal. That trade isn't likely to come together quickly either.
"The Nets are still trying to find a deal for Kevin Durant," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said on Get Up. "...They've got to get value for him, and they've to get significant value for him. And the trade scenarios out there are still complex."
The reality is that an Irving trade is still a long way off if the Lakers can make it happen at all. This brings us back to L.A.'s Plan B of adding a shooter or shooters who can complement James, Westbrook and Davis.
The big question is whether Los Angeles can navigate a trade for a player like Hield while still holding enough assets to acquire Irving once that route becomes available. That would be ideal, but it feels unlikely. In fact, Los Angeles might not be able to get a player like Hield at all.
Stein reported earlier this month (h/t Bleacher Report's Paul Kasabian) that the Lakers have eyed both Hield and Myles Turner but are unlikely to get both:
"A second source I spoke to expressed pessimism that the Lakers would have the required assets to assemble a trade in which they acquire both Hield and Myles Turner from Indiana. Various reports have described the two Pacers as prime targets for L.A. if it is unable to assemble an Irving trade construction that Brooklyn is prepared to accept."
Still, it makes sense for L.A. to explore all its options now rather than simply stand pat and hope something works out with Irving. The waiting game could last until late in the offseason. By then, there may be no alternatives left to consider.
If the Lakers can find a viable alternative to Irving now, there will come a point where waiting on him no longer makes sense. Los Angeles is wise to keep an eye on Brooklyn's situation while laying the groundwork for other deals.
The last thing the Lakers can afford to do is have an Irving-or-bust mentality and then fail to land him. The ancillary pieces they have added are nice, but the roster, as constructed, isn't going to win a championship.