Buying or Selling Latest Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, LA Lakers Rumors

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVJune 23, 2022

Buying or Selling Latest Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, LA Lakers Rumors

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    It's NBA rumor season, which means it's also Kyrie Irving rumor season. For the last several years, he's been a mainstay in reports, leaks and speculation about his future.

    There was plenty of such noise before he forced his way off the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017. Ditto for his time with the Boston Celtics, a team whose fanbase famously received the following promise:

    Boston Celtics @celtics

    “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here.” - <a href="https://twitter.com/KyrieIrving?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KyrieIrving</a> <a href="https://t.co/0wDLzuv5WL">https://t.co/0wDLzuv5WL</a>

    And now, after appearing in only 103 games over three seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, Irving might bounce again.

    Here's a look at how much to stock to put into the latest rumors about his future.

Sources Say...

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    The spirit of discontent seemed to be in the air long before this, but it was fanned with a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium on Monday.

    "Multiple sources tell The Athletic that conversations about Irving’s future have gone stagnant between him and the Nets," Charania wrote. "An impasse currently exists among the parties that clears the way for the seven-time All-Star to consider the open marketplace, those sources said."

    If he were to decline his player option and enter unrestricted free agency, Charania reported the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks would be interested.

    On Wednesday, three veteran reporters added to the mix.

    ESPN's Brian Windhorst opined that the stalemate might involve some "saber rattling." The idea of Irving taking a $25-30 million pay cut next season to play for one of the aforementioned teams is hard to take seriously.

    Marc Stein added that Irving "had some recent contact with Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, his former Cleveland teammate, to presumably discuss a potential reunion in Hollywood," but he too expressed skepticism that such a move would actually materialize.

    "The expectation persists leaguewide that the Nets will hash out some sort of new deal with Irving," Stein wrote.

    But that hasn't alleviated all concern for the Nets, who might stand to lose two stars if they can't placate Kyrie.

    "Kyrie Irving's search for leverage on his contract discussions with the Brooklyn Nets won't be found with the threat of a $30 million pay cut to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, but the sum of the franchise's deepest fears," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote. "Irving walks, and Kevin Durant wants a trade."

    If that happens, Brooklyn could be left with Ben Simmons, whatever it gets back in a Durant trade (and a possible Irving sign-and-trade) and a whole bunch of questions only three years after this KD-Irving era started.

Should Kyrie Want to Play with LeBron Again?

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    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    In terms of his individual numbers, Kyrie Irving has enjoyed immense success over the five years since he left LeBron James to play for the Celtics. He has averaged 25.5 points, 6.0 assists and 2.8 threes while shooting 40.5 percent from deep and posting a well-above-average 60.2 true shooting percentage and a 6.2 box plus/minus (11th in the NBA over that stretch).

    Postseason success is a different story, though. After playing in 52 playoff games during his three years with LeBron, Kyrie has appeared in only 22 since he left Cleveland. This season, his former teammates on the Celtics swept him out of the first round.

    With a half-decade of evidence to look at, it's safe to say Irving was better served in the slightly smaller role he played as a Cavalier.

    His usage percentage during those last three years in Cleveland wasn't much lower than it has been in Boston and Brooklyn, but LeBron was clearly the primary playmaker and leader of the team. Had Irving been more willing to accept that, the last five years could've played out much differently.

    In 2019, Kyrie admitted to calling LeBron to apologize for his reaction to his former teammate's leadership. In a more recent podcast appearance, he expressed regret over his lack of communication.

    "I didn't know how to share my emotions," Kyrie said on I Am Athlete. "I didn't know how to do that. So instead of sharing, I isolated myself."

    Had they been on the same page, Irving believes they "definitely, definitely would've won more championships."

    Five years after they parted ways, Irving may now realize he had it pretty good with one of the top players of all time. And though LeBron is now 37, his four-year averages of 27.0 points and 8.2 assists with the Lakers suggest he may have enough in the tank for one more run at a title.

    He probably wouldn't have to burn quite as much of it if he had a motivated Irving alongside him.

    Verdict: Buy

Should LeBron Want to Play with Kyrie Again?

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    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    The answer here may not be quite as simple. After all, Irving was the one who did the spurning, and LeBron has since gone on to win a title with the Lakers.

    But things turned in a hurry for the Lakers after that 2020 championship run. After a first-round exit in 2021, they traded for Russell Westbrook and missed the playoffs altogether this past season.

    If the choice is broken down to something as simple as "Russ or Kyrie," LeBron should prefer the latter route, even with all of Irving's potential baggage and availability concerns.

    In 2021-22, L.A. was minus-1.1 points per 100 possessions when James and Westbrook shared the floor. During their three seasons together in Cleveland, LeBron and Kyrie had a plus-10.4 net rating.

    There are more to those numbers than just "who's LeBron's No. 2?" The rest of the supporting casts with the Cavs fit better, but so did he and Kyrie.

    Westbrook has spent well over a decade dominating most of his teams' possessions. Expecting him to suddenly switch that off as a 33-year old was unrealistic, especially for someone with a notoriously unreliable outside shot.

    Kyrie needs the ball as well, but his range as a shooter alone makes him a better co-star for LeBron. Balancing their outside games with the dominance of a hopefully healthy Anthony Davis inside would almost certainly vault the Lakers back into title contention.

    Making that happen wouldn't be easy, though.

    It's hard to see why the Nets would want Westbrook back in an Irving trade. The Lakers thus might need to clear two awfully high hurdles: convincing Irving to play for a massive discount (the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception) and finding a taker for Westbrook's $47.1 million salary.

    If those hurdles can be cleared and LeBron believes some of Kyrie's recent comments about their time together, he absolutely should be interested in a reunion.

    Verdict: Buy that LeBron should want to play with Kyrie. Sell that L.A. will be able to make it happen.

Should KD Leave Brooklyn If Kyrie Bolts for LA?

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    If Kyrie leaves the Nets, Kevin Durant will have to think long and hard about pushing for his own departure.

    He and Irving were a package deal for Brooklyn back in 2019. If Irving leaves, KD will be left to play with Ben Simmons and a group of role players that couldn't get he and Kyrie out of the first round.

    Setting aside what might come back in an Irving sign-and-trade, it's hard to imagine the Durant-Simmons version of the Nets faring much better next season. Salvaging what's left of his prime (KD turns 34 in September) and hunting a third title might require a move elsewhere.

    As painful as it might be in the short term, Brooklyn might ultimately be OK with landing a huge haul for Durant if Irving leaves.

    Jaime Oppenheim @JustOpp

    Getting lost in all the Kyrie nonsense is that No. 7 is:<br><br>-Turning 34<br>-Entering the 1st year of a 4 year, $194m extension<br>-Shot 39% and averaged 5 TOs in the playoffs<br>-Played in 90 regular season games the last 3 years

    Despite the red flags above, some team would surely break the asset bank to land him. That would leave the Nets with a soon-to-be 26-year-old multi-time All-Star in Simmons and presumably other young players and picks to rebuild around.

    Verdict: Buy

Will Kyrie Actually Leave the Nets?

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    These latest rumors feel like public negotiations.

    Given all of the absences and the drama that has followed Kyrie since he left Cleveland, it's hard to imagine a robust trade market for him. That makes the opt-out-and-take-a-discount route his likeliest path to another team, and even that feels like a long shot.

    Instead, perhaps after more reports and posturing from both sides, expect some kind of shorter-term deal with minimum games thresholds and other safeguards for the Nets.

    At worst, Kyrie could pick up his $36.5 million player option, work to rehab his value this season and become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. If that motivates Irving to be on the floor and engaged as much as possible, that route might be the best for the Nets' 2022-23 prospects.

    Durant might not have much longer on the "best player on a title team" tier. Adding that third championship is likely to be more difficult in each season from here on out.

    Verdict: Sell

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