Signals had been sent over the last month, sources told The Times, about Irving’s interest in leaving the Nets for the Lakers after talks for a long-term contract extension with Brooklyn didn’t materialize.
The notion that Irving would play for the taxpayer mid-level exception, a deal worth $30 million less than what he opted into on Monday, got consistently floated in NBA circles.
While there was always skepticism about Irving’s ability to actually leave that money on the table, there was mutual interest between Irving and the Lakers in forging a partnership.
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.
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.
This scenario, while not impossible, became increasingly unlikely as the deadline for Irving to opt in or out of his contract approached. Irving decided to remain with the Nets when he opted in Monday.
“Normal people keep the world going, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow. I’ve made my decision to opt in. See you in the fall,” he told The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Irving could still be traded to the Lakers, though their leverage in the deal probably vanished once the threat of Irving signing with them outright disappeared.
A sign-and-trade deal, a transaction where a free agent signs with his current team and then is dealt to another club, wouldn’t have worked because of the hard salary-cap ceiling placed on teams who acquire players in that fashion.
However, the pathway for the Lakers, as well as 28 other teams, to acquire Irving via trade still exist on his one-year deal.
As late as Monday morning, there was still belief a deal could be struck with Irving and the Nets. The “how,” though, was largely out of the Lakers’ control — provided they eventually put their limited future draft picks into play.
That, in the end, could be required to sweeten any trade with Russell Westbrook’s extra-large expiring contract, the main reason a third team would enter any deal.
The situation, even by NBA standards, is considered complicated. As a general rule, the more teams involved, the more complicated a transaction is to consummate.
For now, Irving is a member of the Nets and is scheduled to stay that way through the end of his contract following the upcoming season.
When it comes to Irving “for now” is as important as anything else.