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The NBA offseason is less than two weeks old, and we’ve already witnessed the birth and (likely) death of a “Kyrie Irving to the Los Angeles Lakers” rumor.
On draft day, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania both reported on Irving’s potential departure from the Brooklyn Nets. Wojnarowski even listed Irving’s preferred sign-and-trade destinations, with the Lakers among them.
Four days later, Irving seemingly did an about-face and announced his intention to pick up a $36.5 million player option to stay in Brooklyn for 2022-23.
Of course, being on an expiring contract and not part of a sign-and-trade (which would “hard cap” his new team) might actually make it easier to move Kyrie, but Wojnarowski noted a mostly uninterested market on Monday.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
ESPN Sources: Outside of the Lakers, there are currently no known teams planning pursuit of sign-and-trades for Nets G Kyrie Irving. No sign-and-trades can be formally discussed until after 6 PM on Thursday. Brooklyn isn’t believed to have interest in available Lakers packages.
In the wacky world of the NBA offseason, it’s probably to declare anything impossible, but let’s assume for now that Irving won’t be reuniting with LeBron James.
That means L.A. has to look to some other possibilities to shake things up (running it back after missing the playoffs in 2022 feels like a terrible idea).
It will have access to the taxpayer’s mid-level exception, which has a starting salary of $6.4 million. And in a summer with very little cap space available, that could actually go a long way.
The Lakers should probably be open to trading anyone not named LeBron or Anthony Davis, too.
Which targets are actually gettable? And what can the Lakers do to get back to contention as early as 2022-23? Scroll down to find out.
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Yes, a shakeup is probably necessary for the Lakers, but they can do that through trade. And one of the few bright spots from last season was floor-spacer Malik Monk.
Without access to his Bird rights (because he’s only been a Laker for a year), though, L.A. would probably have to use its taxpayer mid-level exception to sign him, something Monk is open to.
“They might not be able to pay me as much as I want,” Monk told The Athletic’s Jovan Buha. “But I could be here and be way more comfortable as a Laker than going to any other team (that would pay) me $5 million more.”
Last season, Monk averaged 13.8 points and 2.3 threes while shooting 39.1 percent from deep. And that floor spacing ability showed up in more than just the conventional box score.
There may be bigger names willing to play for $6.4 million in L.A., but it could certainly do worse than bringing Monk back.
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The Charlotte Hornets are one team that reportedly had “real” interest in Russell Westbrook, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.
Pairing him with LaMelo Ball and taking possessions away from the young All-Star seems like a bad idea, so perhaps the aim is to get sweeteners from the Lakers to take Westbrook off their hands. Maybe Hayward’s contract ($61.6 million over the next two seasons) is onerous enough to justify taking on a year of Russ without picks.
Whatever the motivation, if it’s legitimate, the Lakers should pursue it.
Hayward has had a terrible time staying on the floor over the last three years (averaging just 48.3 appearances per season), but his game would actually fit quite well with LeBron’s.
Over the same stretch, he’s hit 39.6 percent of his three-point attempts. That alone should be a boost to James’ drive-and-kick game, but Hayward has some point forward in him too.
That means he could run the offense from the wing when LeBron is off the floor or operate as a secondary creator attacking defenses that the superstar already has in rotation.
The lack of durability and an extra year on the contract are valid concerns, but it’s hard to see how Hayward would be anywhere near as bad a fit on this team as Westbrook was in 2021-22.
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Almost every team in the NBA this offseason will be on the hunt for versatile, switchable wings, and the Lakers shouldn’t excuse themselves from that fray.
And while there may be some older, bigger-name free agents willing to go to this historic franchise for a taxpayer mid-level exception that might feel like a discount for them, L.A. should expand its search this offseason.
The Lakers have done the “load up on past-their-prime veterans” thing before. It’s time to try something new, and Hayward’s teammate in Charlotte, Cody Martin, would be a good option, and he might not even cost the entire exception.
He checks a lot of the same boxes Hayward would (though maybe on a smaller scale), and there are fewer concerns about his health.
He only logged 26.3 minutes per game, but his pace- and playing-time adjusted numbers illustrate the point above: 10.5 points, 3.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 threes per 75 possessions, with a 38.4 three-point percentage.
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If the Lakers are able to find a taker for Russell Westbrook, they’ll be in the market for another point guard (or at least a point guard-sized player), even if LeBron continues to operate as the primary playmaker.
Some of his most successful lineups have included guards who could function off the ball and command attention as shooters outside, like Mario Chalmers, Kyrie Irving and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Bruce Brown might be a harder get than Martin due to interest from other teams, but he’d fill that role well on the taxpayer mid-level exception.
Though he’s often functioned as a rim-runner over the last couple of seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, Brown started his career as a guard for the Detroit Pistons. And along that winding path, he’s developed a wide range of skills that make him one of the game’s most unique players.
In his second season, he averaged 5.2 assists per 75 possessions. The next year, he went for 8.7 rebounds per 75 possessions, and in 2021-22, he shot a career-high 40.4 percent from three.
If Brown could put that all together, he’d be an ideal off-guard to play alongside one of the best point forwards of all time.
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The Los Angeles Lakers have been reluctant to attach sweeteners in trades to unload Russell Westbrook, but the Indiana Pacers might be able to back them off that stance.
Per Marc Stein, L.A. reportedly offered Indiana a package that included Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker and a draft pick for Malcolm Brogdon, and the Pacers refused.
Given his lack of durability (he’s only managed 48.7 appearances per season over the last three years), going much further than that might seem unwise. However, the Lakers shouldn’t abandon this idea.
He’s a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter who ranks in the top 20 all-time in career free-throw percentage. And since he joined the Pacers, he’s averaged 6.3 assists.
That combination of shooting and playmaking (not to mention his 6’5″ frame and multipositional defense) would make him a great secondary creator and catch-and-shoot threat with LeBron.
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