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NBA Free Agency: How close were the Lakers to acquiring Kyrie Irving?

A whirlwind of a week culminated in a flurry of news on Monday as Kyrie Irving made (presumably) his final decision on where he’ll be playing next season. As things built and built to where it seemed like the Lakers were a very viable option and perhaps the favorite, Kyrie pulled a fast one and accepted his player option to remain a Net.

The aftermath of that has filtered out in the day since and is the subject of today’s headlines and rumors.

The Lakers got played

This situation wasn’t a matter of everyone on the inside knowing what was going on and the public being in the dark. The Lakers themselves believed that Kyrie was a possibility, a sense that grew within the franchise as the last week went on, according to Dan Woike of the LA Times.

The idea picked up significant steam within the organization. Lakers stars James and Anthony Davis have both spoken with Irving. Team executives have seriously weighed acquiring Irving. And the talk, which was originally thought to perhaps be a leverage play, had only gotten louder as the rift between Irving and the Nets has grown.

Like the rest of us, the Lakers had no idea what Kyrie’s true intentions were, LeBron James and Anthony Davis likely among them. Even while the Lakers acknowledged the absurdity of Irving accepting the taxpayer mid-level exception to join the franchise, it was an idea that slowly seemed more likely over the last week.

The clearest path to acquiring Irving would‘ve required significant financial sacrifice from the seven-time All-Star, who could decline his options and then sign with the Lakers in free agency. The team can currently offer the taxpayer midlevel exception projected to be around $6 million per season to a free agent.

In that case, the Lakers would have needed to create salary-cap space next offseason to sign Irving to a more lucrative contract.

It wasn’t discounted, in part, because of Irving’s unpredictability.

Ultimately, the Lakers had no idea what Kyrie was going to do. They had seemingly prepared for any possibility and were left wondering what he would do, like everyone else.

Nets had multiple sign-and-trade options

For a relatively brief window on Monday, the Nets had granted Kyrie permission to seek a sign-and-trade in the morning before he accepted his player in the early evening. Reports from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN suggested that the Lakers were the only team interested in a trade with the Nets but Shams Charania of The Athletic contradicted that to some degree by reporting that Kyrie turned down numerous trade offers (emphasis mine).

The seven-time All-Star will opt into his $37 million player option for the 2022-23 season to fulfill his four-year contract signed in 2019, as well as his commitment to the franchise and Kevin Durant, who joined Irving in Brooklyn in the summer of 2019. Even as Durant has seriously mulled his future with the franchise, according to sources, Irving bypassed pursuing multiple scenarios where he could have opted in to his deal and been traded ahead of the Wednesday opt-in deadline.

Could those multiple offers just be different variations of Russell Westbrook plus a draft pick/player for Kyrie? Hard to say really. The reality, as is often the case, is somewhere in the middle. The Lakers may have been the only team seriously interested while other teams may have offered some half-hearted, unrealistic trades that Irving bypassed knowing the Nets would say no.

But just because the Nets and Lakers didn’t agree to a trade on Monday doesn’t mean Kyrie won’t be a Laker…

A trade still lives?

While Monday served as a soft deadline for a Kyrie deal before he made a decision on his contract, it certainly isn’t a hard deadline in which the two sides still couldn’t work out a deal.

Realistically, though, the reason Monday felt like such a pivotal time for the trade is because Kyrie held leverage in which it felt like a real possibility he might opt out of his contract. With that threat gone, so is the leverage for him and, as a result, the Lakers. Brian Windhorst of ESPN noted that trade talks could continue on his Hoop Collective podcast, but it feels unlikely (via Nets Daily).

“Depending on what the Nets want to achieve, it’s not impossible that could be revisited this time in trade form. With Irving opting in, a sign-and-trade is off the table I know Kyrie said I’ll see you in the fall, but maybe this is Kyrie’s strategy move. Now that I’ve got your money, I’m going to be a problem till you trade me.”

If Kyrie were going to make things messy and be a problem, he likely would have issued a much different statement when he opted in on Monday and would be immediately making it clear he wanted out. Since neither of those things happened, though, it feels like the window has passed for him to be a Laker next season.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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