There are few things that provide as many fireworks in professional sports as the NBA’s offseason. Superstar players change teams, the NBA title picture shifts, and stories of fractured locker rooms and relationships make their way to the public to provide interesting subplots and talking points for the season to come. But what makes the NBA’s offseason so appealing and intriguing is the great unknown. It is impossible to predict, and even in summers where there isn’t expected to be major player movement, something always comes out of nowhere.
This offseason, we have already seen Rudy Gobert dealt to the Timberwolves for a monster haul of players and five future first round picks, but that pales in comparison to what has been happening in Brooklyn. The Kyrie Irving and Brooklyn Nets drama has rocked not only that franchise, but also the entire NBA. Irving’s lack of availability and reliability during his Nets tenure, whether it be from injury, or refusing to get vaccinated and missing the majority of the 2021-2022 season, has landed him in a less than favorable position in contract negotiations this offseason. With the Nets and Irving failing to agree on a contract extension, Irving has opted to seek a new home outside of Brooklyn while also setting in motion the trade request of Kevin Durant from the franchise.
Irving’s singular individual talent would suggest that there would be a robust trade market for the seven-time All-Star that is right in the middle of his prime. But if it hasn’t been one thing, it has been another with him during his time with the Nets, and with reports that he has his eyes fixated on a move to the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2023, it has made teams apprehensive of parting with any meaningful assets for a rental of Irving’s services for this upcoming season. But one thing is for certain, the Lakers are in need of Irving this upcoming season, and Irving is in need of a reunion with LeBron James.
If there is a reason to overlook the injury concerns and reliability of Irving, it is that his track record as a teammate of James yielded the results of one of them most dominant playoff tandems in recent NBA history. From 2015-2017 the James and Irving led Cavaliers demolished the Eastern Conference, compiling a 36-5 record in the Eastern Conference playoffs during that three-year stretch. The duo played in three consecutive NBA Finals, ultimately winning it all in 2016. Though they only were able to capture one championship together, it’s hard to imagine too many duos that provided as many highlights in a three-year span, punctuated by their combined 82-point magnum opus in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
After a shocking split in the summer of 2017, Irving and James have yet to find the same level of consistent dominance that they shared together over the course of three magical seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James has returned to the NBA Finals twice since Irving was traded from the Cavs, once in 2018 where he was swept by the Golden State Warriors, and again in 2020 where he won his fourth NBA title and Finals MVP award with the Lakers. But he has also missed the playoffs twice in the last four seasons, and lost in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 2021. Injuries to James and his running mate Anthony Davis have played a large part in the up-and-down results he has seen as a member of the Lakers, but roster fit and construction doomed the Lakers in the 2021-2022 season the moment they traded away key pieces that made them champions in 2020 for Russell Westbrook, one of the most dynamic and polarizing players in recent NBA history. A 33-49 finish this past season was the worst for a LeBron James-led team in his career, and a lack of consistent shotmaking and secondary playmaking beyond James was one of the most glaring weaknesses of the Lakers this past season.
That’s where Irving comes into play, but with a risk. For as talented and respected as Irving is amongst his peers across the NBA and former players alike, he is likely headed to his third team in the last six years with an inevitable departure on the horizon from the Nets. And in each spot there have been rumblings of him being an issue in the locker room in Boston and Brooklyn, and this is without adding in the added injury concerns. Irving has not played in 70 games in a season since the 2016-2017 season, and pairing him with an aging James who has become more and more prone to injury in recent years, as well as Anthony Davis, who has a laundry list of injury concerns of his own could be seen as a risk that isn’t worth the reward. But the Lakers are in desperation mode at this point.
It’s hard to envision the Lakers returning to legitimate contender status this coming season with their current supporting cast and the ill-fitting Westbrook next to James and Davis. And while the addition of Irving wouldn’t guarantee the Lakers a championship, or even a Western Conference Finals appearance, it would be the floor-raising and ceiling-raising move that could vault them back amongst the NBA’s elite. In three seasons with the Nets, Irving has averaged 27.1 points and six assists per game while shooting 49 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 92 percent from the free throw line. He is the exact type of guard that fits perfectly alongside James as a dynamic shot creator, who can consistently put pressure on defenses due to his elite shooting and finishing at the rim. He would also immediately add a boost to the Lakers’ otherwise anemic shooting on their current roster. A trio of James, Irving and Davis would be the best in the NBA, and one of the hardest teams to defend in the league if healthy. Health, of course, is the major caveat to all of this.
Irving’s reputation is as bad as it has ever been around the NBA, while James’ once firm grip on NBA supremacy is slipping with each passing season in Los Angeles. The Warriors have risen back to the top of the NBA’s food chain, while the LA Clippers appeared primed for a run at their first Finals appearance in franchise history barring health. You also have Giannis Antetokounmpo, widely viewed as the NBA’s most dominant player currently, and the threats of the Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and a new Kevin Durant-led team lurking on the horizon. James remains as the NBA’s north star as far as brand and name recognition, but it’s no secret that winning is what drives him on the court.
Rarely in life do you get a second chance to make things right when a situation ends on rocky terms. The Irving and James marriage was a match made in heaven on the court. It’s time for the two of them to find that spark again, together, in purple and gold.