Lakers Expected to Pursue Polarizing 8-Time All-Star After WCF Struggles

Getty Head coach Darvin Ham Rob Pelinka of the Lakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ struggles in the Western Conference Finals have reignited rumors about the team’s pursuit of polarizing point guard Kyrie Irving.

The Lakers have been linked to Irving multiple times previously, although much of the buzz died down with LA making a deep playoff run. But the Lakers’ momentum has hit a snag down 3-0 to the Denver Nuggets, which has brought the possibility of signing Irving back to the table.

“I could just see Kyrie [Irving] ready to come and the feeling being, ‘Look, we just got to the conference finals, imagine if we replace [D’Angelo] Russell with Kyrie?’” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his Hoop Collective podcast. “The Lakers have fallen for this before. The way this is ending, I think it’s increasing the chances of it happening,”

Irving is an 8-time All-Star and is coming off a campaign where he averaged 27.1 points on 49.4% shooting to go with 5.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists. However, Irving’s season was defined by his off-court drama, leading to a trade to the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs struggled to gel following the move and missed the playoffs.

D’Angelo Russell Struggling Changes Outlook for Lakers

Darvin Ham Postgame Interview | Los Angeles Lakers lose to Denver Nuggets 119-108Darvin Ham Postgame Interview | Los Angeles Lakers lose to Denver Nuggets 119-1082023-05-21T03:18:41Z

It was previously reported by Tim Cato of The Athletic that the Lakers were uninterested in bringing on Irving, who could require a max deal in free agency. The Lakers reshaped their roster at the trade deadline with new pieces around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“To acquire him would require jettisoning several deadline acquisitions who have helped revitalize their season and land them in a second-round series against the Golden State Warriors,” Cato wrote.

The matchup with the Nuggets has been a different story, primarily for D’Angelo Russell, who has struggled mightily against Denver. He’s managing 7.0 points per game, shooting just 30% from the field and 14% from beyond the arc.

“I think (Russell’s offense and defense go) hand in hand, man,” Ham said after a 119-108 Game 3 loss. “We need him to be great in his (defensive) coverages. But also, no one man is on an island when it comes to offense or defense. The whole unit, they have to give support to whoever is in whatever situation or scenario. So I think it goes hand in hand — both sides of the ball. And we definitely need him to make 3s.

“We need to make more 3s, so him being able to do both and being solid within our defensive structure and him being aggressive, again — make your next shot your best shot. That has to be his mentality.”

There’s been talk about the Lakers benching Russell but the team is worried about the implications beyond this year. Sitting him in a playoff series prior to hitting free agency could be seen as a slap in the face by Russell, hurting the Lakers’ chances of bringing him back.

Lakers Can Retain Austin Reaves While Adding Kyrie Irving

Lakers stars LeBron James and Austin Reaves

GettyLakers stars LeBron James and Austin Reaves

The main sticking point with signing Irving would be the Lakers becoming massively top-heavy again, with the majority of cap space going to three players. LA tried that with Russell Westbrook and it was an unmitigated disaster.

However, Windhorst laid out a path where the team could also hang on to impending restricted free agent Austin Reaves, who has become a big part of the Lakers’ success.

“It would take a little bit of maneuvering, and Kyrie would probably have to not take the max, or they would have to work on something with Dallas, but they can get there,” Windhorst said. “They can keep Reaves and get Kyrie, if they make that a priority. They risk going right back to where they were before, which is a top-heavy team.”

Reaves has been the Lakers’ third-best player in the postseason, behind James and Davis. The former undrafted free agent is averaging 16.9 points in the playoffs and is expected to have suitors this offseason.

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