At the risk of being a hypocrite and drowning Denver in a flood of Los Angeles Lakers’ developments, the departure from the postseason has stirred up the underbelly of latent Kyrie Irving free agency rumor-mongering. Even in defeat, the superstar carousel never ends in Los Angeles — or Boston for that matter. Even on the verge of being swept, the Lakers’ perpetual superstar replenishment program was already planning its next free-agent spree. ESPN’s longtime resident LeBron whisperer Brian Windhorst is already dousing the airwaves with scuttlebutt regarding the Lakers’ renewed interest in acquiring Irving in a sign-and-trade this summer.
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How much of the speculation is based in reality or a pipedream is irrelevant. Windhorst’s belief conflicts with Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus reporting that Irving has had a handshake agreement in place with the Dallas Mavericks for a four-year extension since they traded for him from Brooklyn at the trade deadline. Pincus also shared that Irving wouldn’t have “said yes to anything less than the max,” which doesn’t bode well for the Lakers who would be hard-pressed to offer the max and sign Irving without suffering significant losses elsewhere on the roster.
Of course, two things can be true. The Lakers can be in pursuit of Irving, while getting rebuffed by him due to their reluctance to commit to him for long-term. On the other hand, Irving’s word to Mark Cuban is as good as the contract it’s enshrined on and handshakes aren’t legally binding.
This is how the Lakers’ machine works. There’s always a Kyrie or Kawhi or Paul George-type to assuage their disappointing end to a season. The Lakers are the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” franchise. In the midst of the worst stretch of D’Angelo Russell’s season, purported insiders are dusting off months-old Irving rumors.
In order to acquire Irving for a near-max deal, the Lakers would have to sacrifice their second D’Angelo Russell contract. Three months ago, Russell’s homecoming was a significant moment for the Lakers and he played great in the final quarter of the regular season. Irving is undoubtedly a better individual talent, but he struggled to synchronize with teammates, coaches, and even ownership. One second he’s all in and the next he’s not just a basketball player, he’s a human who needs a few weeks off to reconcile that existential crisis.
Adding one of the most creative ball handlers in NBA history to the Lakers would bolster the offense at the expense of the depth Rob Pelinka created at the trade deadline. There’s also the added question of how realistic this interest actually is.
Dame Time in Beantown?
Meanwhile, Celtics wish casters like Kendrick Perkins have begun loudly proposing interrupting Boston’s continuity with a Jaylen Brown and Damian Lillard swap. Breaking up the Brown-Tatum duo is the prescribed fix that will inundate the media this summer and Lillard is the obvious third party to include. In contrast to Irving, Lillard is more palatable on its surface. Lillard is a reliable professional. Lillard, who will be 33 this summer may be closer to his twilight than Irving, 32, but not by much. Besides, his durability makes him a better gamble than Irving in L.A. alongside two other fragile superstars.
Lillard could be exactly what Boston needs at this point. Marcus Smart’s feistiness, and craftiness have been a crucial aspect of Boston’s success, but a playmaker of Lillard’s caliber, who can stretch out the defense for Tatum could take them to the next level with him in a diminished offensive role. Of course, simply discussing this after Jaylen Brown endured being floated in the Kevin Durant trade discussions last summer only increases the odds that he heads for the exits in 2024.
Boston has been interested in Lillard
There’s nothing tangible there yet, but Boston’s interest in Lillard can be traced back at least two years. Brown and Tatum achieved on-court harmony after Ime Udoka took over, but Brown’s shortcomings in the Eastern Conference Finals have reinforced the notion that he will always be an interloper in Boston. Portland trading Lillard frees them to draft Scoot Henderson and pair him alongside Anfernee Simons and finally frees them to lean in on a rebuild replete with young players on the same timeline.
What Brown and Russell both have in common are their expiring contracts and postseason struggles. In Games 1-3 Russell shot like he was blindfolded. Brown is shooting 37 percent from the field, 10 percent from 3-point range, and committed more turnovers than assists.
Interestingly, the Heat and Nuggets are taking an inverted route to the Finals with a smattering of journeymen or fringe stars that defy the player empowerment age mantras. The marquee franchises pushing for more All-Star mercenaries comes at the expense of continuity. The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat are defying that compulsion by building title finalists without tanking or chasing max-contract free agents. But in today’s instant gratification age, few teams have time for the long game. Especially the title-starved Celtics and a Lakers organization on the clock to salvage what’s left of the LeBron James era as he ponders retirement.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex
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