Kyrie Irving has been a disaster without LeBron James, but they could still make magic if he gets to Lakers

Kyrie Irving’s attempt to prove his own superstar merits outside the orbit of LeBron James has failed miserably. He’s been a disaster at every post-Cleveland stop. He screwed up the Celtics, who were a conference finals team before him and a Finals team after him. I would say Irving’s super-team Brooklyn venture with Kevin Durant and James Harden has nosedived, but the truth is it never really got off the ground. 

Irving played 20 games his first season in Brooklyn. He took a literal vacation in the middle of his second season. He refused to get a vaccine shot in his third season and played 29 games. Over that span, the Nets got swept in the first round twice. They won a total of seven playoffs games. Like I said, disaster. 

So now Irving, who will become a free agent if he doesn’t opt in to his $36.5 million option for the 2022-23 season by Wednesday, has reportedly sought and received permission from the Nets to pursue sign-and-trade possibilities. Problem is, only one team has any interest in a sign and trade for Irving. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that team is the Lakers. After all his nonsense, Kyrie is trying to find his way back to LeBron. 

Whether this reunion actually comes to fruition is another story. Reports indicate the Lakers don’t have a trade package in which the Nets are interested. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fisher is reporting that Irving would be willing to scrap the sign-and-trade idea to instead sign with the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent for the $6M taxpayer midlevel exception, with the intention of then signing a longer term deal with the Lakers next summer. 

Just for conversation’s sake, let’s say this happens. Let’s say that Irving, the guy who was reportedly willing to have a season-ending surgery if the Cavaliers didn’t grant his trade request to get away from LeBron, is willing to go crawling back for relative peanuts. Are the Lakers, in that scenario, a championship-contending team? Draymond Green, for one, believes so. 

“With LeBron, if you give him someone like Kyrie … they’ll have a chance because of the way Kyrie can score the basketball,” Green said in a recent interview with Bloomberg. “LeBron will only put him in position to do that. Kyrie has not proven to be a great leader. LeBron will put an umbrella over that. If you can do what you’re good at, you have LeBron leading.”

I agree with Draymond. From a pure basketball standpoint, Irving is perfect next to LeBron. Always was. Those guys were magical together. Irving is not capable of being the best player, let alone the leader, on a team with honest championship aspirations. With LeBron leading the way, however, Irving’s scoring and ability to lessen LeBron’s playmaking burden overshadows his flaws, or at least it once did, and if Irving decides to get back to just playing basketball, it stands to reason it could be that way again. 

Still, the Lakers would have a lot of other things to figure out in this hypothetical scenario. Perimeter defense being one, which Irving doesn’t help. Anthony Davis staying healthy and remembering how to shoot being another. The Russell Westbrook elephant remains. 

“They could contend,” Draymond said of the Lakers, “but they won’t beat us.” 

Again, I agree with Green. Contending for a championship, which is a fairly loose designation in the first place in today’s parity-driven landscape, and winning a championship are two different things. Damn near half the league could make a claim they have a shot at a title next season if things break their way, and only a few of them would be fooling themselves. 

The Warriors have reestablished themselves as a cut above, but it’s not some dynastic-sized gap. You can make a strong case that the Warriors, their fourth championship in eight years notwithstanding, weren’t the best team in the league last season. The Suns all got COVID. The Bucks didn’t have Khris Middleton. 

Then again, nothing ever goes according to script in the NBA playoffs. Injuries always happen. Often to Chris Paul teams. The Warriors won. They’re the champs. End of story. But a whole bunch of teams rightfully believe they’re in position to dethrone Golden State, and the hypothetical Kyrie-LeBron-Davis Lakers, if healthy, with Kyrie setting aside his antics and actually just playing basketball, would be one of those teams.

Irving is a fantastic talent and player. That has never added up to much without LeBron as part of the equation, but there’s no way anyone can deny the power of those two together. Could they be that way again? For the Lakers, for $6 million, it’s certainly worth giving it a shot. 

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