If Kyrie Irving leaves the Brooklyn Nets, he'll almost certainly be suiting up in Purple and Gold during the next phase of his career.
"All indications" are that the Los Angeles Lakers are Irving's "top destination" if he leaves the Nets, according to The Athletic's Jovan Buha, whether that's in a trade this year or next year in free agency.
Irving opted in to his $36.5 million player option for the 2022-23 campaign and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Buha added that since there's currently a lack of interest in trading for him around the league that "it seems like the Lakers are his most likely free-agent option next summer, other than the Nets."
In early July, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported the Nets and Lakers were "actively engaged" in preliminary trade discussions centered around Irving and Russell Westbrook and that there was "palpable optimism" a deal could be reached this offseason.
However, Haynes also noted that the Nets "are not expected to be rushed into a deal and will continue conversing the complex specifics with the Lakers on an Irving-Westbrook swap."
Since then, ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported late last month on NBA Today (h/t Jared Greenspan of the New York Post) that there was "no traction" on an Irving-Westbrook swap and that talks had stalled out.
Irving has been linked to the Lakers for much of the summer since ESPN's Steve A. Smith reported in June that the veteran point guard wanted to team up with LeBron James again in L.A. "as soon as he possibly can."
The Athletic's Sam Amick, Alex Schiffer and Joe Vardon also reported that Irving was focused on joining the Lakers even before he opted in to his 2022-23 contract with the Nets. However, ESPN's Brian Windhorst added that Irving would need to first wait until Kevin Durant, who requested a trade, was moved.
Nonetheless, it's no surprise the Lakers are interested in adding Irving as he would be an upgrade over Westbrook, who had an abysmal first season with the Purple and Gold, averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from deep.
Irving, who wasn't allowed to play in home games for much of the 2021-22 season due to New York City's vaccination mandate for indoor arenas, still averaged 27.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor and 41.8 percent from deep last season.
Putting the seven-time All-Star alongside James, his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate, and Anthony Davis would give the Lakers a better chance at contending for an NBA title in a tough Western Conference that saw them miss the playoffs last season.