A couple of months ago, a reunion between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the Los Angeles Lakers felt a lot more likely than it does today.
After Wednesday's news that the Los Angeles Lakers had sent Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson to the Utah Jazz for Patrick Beverley, the Kyrie dream feels dead and buried.
Even in late June and early July, Kyrie landing in L.A. was far from a safe bet, but there at least seemed to be enough whispers to entertain the gamble.
"[The Brooklyn Nets insist] that talks are only preliminary at this point, but Chris Haynes' report Saturday that the Nets and Lakers have discussed a Kyrie Irving trade only fueled what is already a widespread expectation that Irving is destined to end up with the Lakers," Marc Stein wrote earlier this summer. "James, I'm told, wants to see Irving in Lakerland more than anyone."
Fast-forward several weeks, and Beverley is now the incoming guard, while Irving appears to be settling in for the Nets.
Even before Kevin Durant and the Nets released a statement essentially rescinding Durant's trade request from earlier in the offseason, ESPN's Brian Windhorst shed some light on Kyrie's situation on Get Up!.
"I think Kyrie is invested in being a Brooklyn Net next year," Windhorst said. "... He realizes his best path going forward, to get the contract he wants in Brooklyn or elsewhere, is to have a very good season."
Now that the aforementioned statement is out, the Kyrie-to-L.A. train is fully off the rails and Beverley is on his way to L.A., the next focus almost certainly has to be moving Russell Westbrook.
Running it back with Russ feels untenable. In 2021-22, the Lakers went 31-47 when the soon-to-be-34-year-old point guard was in the lineup. His inability to space the floor makes him incompatible with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
And perhaps most revealing, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said as recently as last week that L.A. is willing to part with both its 2027 and 2029 first-round picks if it could land them Kyrie.
Now that Irving is off the table, where else could the Lakers dangle the "Russ and two first-rounders" package? The three best and most easily foreseeable scenarios (all of which may return more stability than a Kyrie trade anyway) are as follows.
3. Charlotte Hornets
The Deal: Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier for Russell Westbrook a 2027 first-round pick, a 2029 first-round pick and a second-round pick.
In April, Stein reported that the Lakers might be hesitant to take on the remaining two years of Gordon Hayward's contract. That seems especially true if it means unloading Westbrook's expiring deal.
It's easy to see why L.A. would want to preserve flexibility for the 2023 offseason.
Stein added, "The Lakers surely understand that they need to factor in durability if they are taking on long-term money, which suggests that Terry Rozier would have to be the Southern California-bound headliner if the Hornets and Lakers eventually progress to serious trade talks."
Of course, landing Rozier, who's averaged 19.3 points and hit 38.8 percent of his threes over the last three seasons, may require L.A. to pony up a little more.
For a team as desperate as the Lakers should be (who knows how long a title window with Anthony Davis and 37-year-old LeBron will remain open), paying this much makes some sense.
Hayward's health concerns notwithstanding (he's averaged fewer than 50 appearances per season the last three years), he obviously spaces the floor better than Westbrook and fits alongside LeBron in positionless forward combos. With AD at the 5 and those two creating, it's easy to imagine a high-end offense in L.A.
And that's before you add Rozier's volume three-point shooting to keep perimeter defenders honest.
For the Charlotte Hornets, this deal only makes sense as part of a teardown and retool around 21-year-old LaMelo Ball.
And given their lottery finishes in each of the last two seasons, Hayward's durability and Miles Bridges' pending criminal matter stemming from felony domestic violence charges, that's an option Charlotte should entertain.
Westbrook could be bought out following the deal. Even if the Jordan Brand athlete played out the last year of his contract for governor Michael Jordan, he probably wouldn't add a ton of wins. And since the Hornets' 2023 first-round pick goes to the San Antonio Spurs if it's outside the top 16, losses carry some value.
Securing that 2023 first-round pick and beefing up the future asset stockpile with the two Lakers picks would make this blow-it-up scenario worthwhile for Charlotte.
2. Utah Jazz
The Deal: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gay for Russell Westbrook, a 2027 first-round pick, a 2029 first-round pick and a second-round pick
The Utah Jazz are in an even more obvious rebuilding situation than the Hornets. Rudy Gobert, the primary driver of the team's recent success, is gone. Beverley, who came over in the Gobert deal, didn't even make it to training camp. And all signs continue to point toward Donovan Mitchell winding up with the New York Knicks.
If and when Mitchell is moved, there will almost certainly be a fire sale with the remaining veterans. And there are a lot to choose from, including Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gay, Jordan Clarkson and Malik Beasley.
Landing three of them, even if all may be post-prime, would be worth the Westbrook-and-picks package from L.A.
Playing alongside Mitchell the last three years has forced Conley to adapt to playing off the ball. During that stretch, he shot 40.1 percent from three. Bogdanovic has hit 39.7 percent of his triples with the Jazz. And though Gay's career mark of 34.9 is slightly below average, it's good enough to force opposing 4s and 5s to follow him out to the three-point line.
That influx of shooting around LeBron and AD would quickly put the Lakers back on the path to the playoffs.
For the Jazz, a Westbrook buyout would almost certainly follow the trade. And after getting a massive haul for Gobert and a presumably substantial one for Mitchell, Utah should be satisfied to get a first-rounder for some of the remaining difference-makers.
Despite their ages (34 and 33, respectively), Danny Ainge should be able to secure a first apiece for Conley and Bogdanovic. That leaves a second for the 36-year-old Gay.
Of course, this one feels a little weird when you consider that the Lakers and Jazz just swung a deal this week. If they were interested in something like this, why wouldn't they just rope all of the above into the trade that was just reported?
For one thing, that Mitchell domino hasn't fallen. Utah can at least maintain the illusion that it plans to move forward with him if it keeps players like Conley and Bogdanovic around as long as he is.
And L.A. may still be haggling over how many picks it wants to attach to Westbrook.
In the end, we may look back on the Beverley deal as the one that greased the skids for something bigger.
1. Indiana Pacers
The Deal: Myles Turner and Buddy Hield for Russell Westbrook, a 2027 first-round pick, a 2029 first-round pick and a second-round pick
In July, the Lakers reportedly engaged with the Indiana Pacers on a deal that almost certainly would've made them better than the rumored Kyrie deals.
"By now, everybody on the planet, not to mention some distant constellations, knows the Pacers are looking to trade Myles Turner and Buddy Hield," Bob Kravitz wrote for The Athletic. "Team president Kevin Pritchard won't accept a lousy deal to move on from them—witness Indiana's recent refusal to make a trade with the Lakers, who were offering Russell Westbrook, a first-rounder in 2027 and two second-rounders. Pritchard and the Pacers are neither desperate nor stupid."
Replace one of those second-rounders with a first, and the package no longer reeks of desperation, nor does it look so stupid.
It's easy to see why Hield and Turner are on the market. They're certainly not old (Hield is 29, while Turner is 26), but they're on a different timeline than 22-year-old Tyrese Haliburton.
And since a team led by that trio is far from likely to contend right now, trying to gain some assets for the veterans makes sense.
For the Lakers, this is actually the young package of the three detailed here. And if L.A. is thinking at all about life post-LeBron, this is the deal it should pursue.
Hield is one of the most prolific three-point shooters of all time (Stephen Curry and Duncan Robinson are the only players in history who exceed both of his marks for three-point attempts per game and three-point percentage). He'd represent a massive improvement on the spacing front.
Turner, meanwhile, isn't as accurate, but 34.9 percent from your center should be enough to pull bigs away from the paint. And a defense anchored by him and AD could come close to recapturing the grit of the title-winning 2019-20 team.
With both those players in the same age range as 29-year-old AD, you can start to envision the team remaining competitive after LeBron retires (or leaves).