It’s been no surprise to anyone that the drama throughout free agency has been largely pointed at two teams; the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. Neither team has failed to make headlines in the past few years, bringing in lots of All-Stars (or former All-Stars), and drama.
For the Nets, they had one of the best trios in the history of the NBA, only for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden to play 16 games before Harden left. Now, Irving and Durant have both asked out of Brooklyn, and they only played 44 games together.
As for the Lakers, Russell Westbrook was already added to the championship core of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, while this move was to bolster the Lakers and make them an even more dangerous team, Westbrook simply couldn’t play alongside James, Davis was always injured, and they traded away key guys such as Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart in their trades for the All-NBA talents.
Now, people are wondering if both of these teams, desperately in a pickle, can help one another out.
Let’s start from the Lakers side of things. It was clear Westbrook wasn’t working midway through the 2021-22 season, and was further confirmed when the Lakers failed to even make the play-in. It’s no secret they’ve been shopping him around, and it’s not like he’s taking a pay-cut to help out Jeanie Buss. They’ve put on a good show pretending they want him, hiring Darvin Ham who says he believes in Russ and will utilize his talents… but come on.
If the Lakers could somehow swap Irving for Westbrook, that would be a dream come true for them. Irving’s made it clear he likes the Lakers, and LeBron has been pushing for a reunion with his old point guard. Both have made it clear they’ve squashed any beef they once had, so their wouldn’t be any issues from that perspective. However, what incentive do the Nets have to take on Westbrook? Westbrook and Durant haven’t cleared up their past.
Why does that matter? I hear you asking. Durant wants out too!
It would be nice if Durant actually left. However, he’s under contract for four more years, and the Nets aren’t looking to do him any favors right now. They want the best package possible for one of (if not the) best players on the planet, and chances are, no team will have the return they’re looking for. Why? Because of one man, and one ownership group: Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Gobert trade has become a standard for what superstars should be traded for. Back in the early days of basketball, you could trade for a superstar while only giving up three bench guys; for example, Wilt Chamberlain was traded from the 76ers to Lakers for Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark, Jerry Chambers, and an undisclosed amount of cash. Now, it takes multiple picks and star/starter level players. In the Gobert trade, the Jazz received back four first-round picks, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, and Walker Kessler.
One of the main reasons this trade was done is because the Timberwolves have a new ownership group, and most new owners are willing to make a splash in order to try and be competitive. While I wish the Timberwolves luck, these moves don’t usually work.
Now, imagine the return the Nets want if that’s what the Jazz got for a 30 year old, four-time All-Star. It’ll be through the roof! Contenders won’t be able to trade for KD without giving up assets that make them contenders because the Nets still need to be competitive; they’ve traded away all their first-round picks in the James Harden trade.
This is why I think despite all the speculation, Durant is going to be on the Nets at the start of the 2022-23 season.
So, on the topic of Irving once again, the Nets would have to get thrifty to make the salaries match. It is easier now that Irving opted into his $36.5 million player option, but they would also have to trade Seth Curry in order to take on Westbrook! There is no way the Nets would do that.
The other option is trading Irving to the Lakers for the equivalent of five or six bench players, but then the team is left without a roster; plus you have to figure out how to share the ball between two ball dominant point guards, a man who has to try to convince national media he’s the GOAT, and an oft injured big man.
This isn’t a recipe for success. The Lakers simply need to trade Westbrook for pennies on the dollar, and build a good roster around James and Davis. A good start for this would have been three-point shooting, as James is always at his best when he has shooters around. During the 2020 championship, the Lakers had Alex Caruso, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Danny Green, and Markieff Morris, all competent shooters.
Now, in 2022 free agency, the Lakers haven’t done much to address their shooting woes. They signed Lonnie Walker IV, a 23 year old shooting guard from the Spurs; who shot 31.4% from three last year. They signed Juan Tascano-Anderson for around $2 million, who just came off a season averaging four points, two rebounds, and two assists while shooting 32.2% from three. They signed Troy Brown, Jr to a minimum deal, and Damian Jones to a two-year, $5 million contract.
However, the best move the Lakers have made in free agency was signing Thomas Bryant. Bryant is a rim runner, and while he’s spent the last year recovering from a torn ACL, he looks amazing when he’s healthy. Plus, pre-injury, Bryant shot around 41% from three; that’s the kind of center the Lakers need! He’s young, he’s healthy, he can space the floor or play in the post. This has been there best move in all of free agency so far.
Overall, there isn’t much the Lakers can do in terms of signing players due to their restricted cap flexibility, so it makes sense they haven’t made a big splash. The team just has to hope that all of these guys come in and contribute in a positive way.
So; could the Lakers get Irving and dump Westbrook somehow in the process? Yes, but it’s incredibly unlikely. Will Durant get traded this offseason? Very unlikely. What will be the next teams of Irving, Durant, and Westbrook? Impossible to say, since they’re so unpredictable.
Where do you think Durant, Irving, and Westbrook will end up? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!