Asked by ESPN on Monday for his reaction about the Lakers being able to acquire Kyrie Irving, LeBron James said, “I can't sit here and say I'm not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent.” In other words, if you are wondering if James is less than thrilled, you only need to quote the man himself when he was initially asked if he would be interested in playing with Irving again: Duh.
Irving is headed to the Mavericks, while James and the Lakers are still looking to upgrade a squad that enters trade deadline week on the outside looking in of the play-in, let alone the playoffs. And with a major player (literally and figuratively) off the board, Los Angeles desperately needs to pivot to a backup plan to salvage its season.
While the Irving’s fit in Dallas both on and off the court comes with a host of questions, he made much more sense for the Lakers. Los Angeles is operating in a much different space than the Mavs. LeBron is 38 and the clock is ticking on his career. Anthony Davis is finally healthy. And the duo has shown before they can be the center of a championship squad with the right pieces around them. Irving likely won’t lift Dallas as a No. 2 option. As the third-best player on the Lakers, he made much more sense. Especially considering if anyone was built to deal with his unreliable tendencies, it’s James.
For a variety of reasons, the Lakers struck out. They seemingly couldn’t find a third team to take on Russell Westbrook’s contract and facilitate the deal. The Nets may also have had their own motives with Kyrie not landing in Los Angeles, with owner Joe Tsai reportedly not keen on sending Irving to his top destination. Whatever the case, the Lakers appeared to be waiting all season to use their oft-discussed future first-round picks on an All-Star caliber players. Long rumored trades like a hypothetical deal for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner were tsk-tsked for not bringing back enough star power. Though Irving comes with his own set of complications, he was ultimately the type of on-court fit the Lakers were holding out for.
But that deal is now off the table. And Rob Pelinka and the rest of the L.A. brain trust can’t let whiffing on Irving prevent the team from being bold when it comes to seeking upgrades at the deadline.
There’s plenty of chatter about those future picks, first rounders in 2027 and 2029, and exactly how aggressive Los Angeles should be in using them. The argument against moving them is the team could be in dire straits by then if both James and Davis are gone. Also, using them doesn’t necessarily guarantee whoever comes back will make the Lakers a title contender.
Frankly, I find that line of thinking to be comical. Davis was playing at a borderline MVP level when healthy earlier this season. He has been great in the five games since returning from his foot injury, scoring at least 20 four times, and at least 30 in back-to-back outings. James is still capable of being the best player on a championship team. Yes, I know you’re sick about hearing about how what he’s doing at 38 years old is unprecedented. Well, guess what! What LeBron is doing at 38 is unprecedented, and to me, wasting a season of a player of this caliber is a sin. (This is a story for a different day, but that means you too, Golden State.)
Post-Irving, the Lakers cannot be satisfied that they tried for one star. Be aggressive with the picks. Go after Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. See how many players the Jazz are willing to give up for Westbrook’s expiring. Figure out a way to give James and Davis at least a fighting chance in the playoffs. Is there a move out there that definitely makes them a contender? Let me ask the question this way: Is there a team in the West an upgraded Lakers squad should truly be terrified of?
Even with the deadline fast approaching, the Lakers still have a chance to put pieces around LeBron and AD to make one last push headed into the playoffs. If there were ever a season to do it, it’s this one, when no one in the West has truly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Anything else would be an obvious disappointment.