Along with the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers have been among Kyrie Irving’s top suitors ahead of the 2019 free agency period but have mostly lagged behind the two New York-based teams. While it could be interesting if the Boston Celtics point guard reunites with LeBron James in Los Angeles, the latest from ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski suggests that the Lakers may be rooting for Irving to sign with the Nets for one specific reason.
As cited by Silver Screen and Roll, Wojnarowski made his latest comments about Irving on Tuesday’s Woj and Lowe Free Agency Special on ESPN, as he told co-host Zach Lowe why the Lakers supposedly want Irving to move to Brooklyn. According to Wojnarowski, this would give the Lakers a chance to chase erstwhile Nets starting point guard D’Angelo Russell in free agency, as the latter team would most likely renounce his rights if they are able to lure Irving away from the Celtics this summer.
“The Lakers now, at this point, are rooting for Kyrie Irving to go to Brooklyn because then Brooklyn renounces D’Angelo Russell, who’s a restricted free agent,” Wojnarowski explained. “He becomes unrestricted and then the Lakers could sign Russell as their third star in L.A. and they get back a much more mature, polished player who’s been an All-Star, who’s put a team into the postseason.”
According to Silver Screen and Roll, Wojnarowski made similar remarks in a previous appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter, where he referred to the 23-year-old Russell as the Lakers’ “top target.”
The Lakers and D'Angelo Russell reportedly have scheduled a meeting. Russell is reportedly open to returning to LA. (AD followed D'Lo on IG this weekend ????)— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) June 25, 2019
More: https://t.co/GNLlThe5rw pic.twitter.com/z20lYlScwc
Originally the Lakers’ second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Russell was part of the trade in the summer of 2017 that allowed Los Angeles to “dump” journeyman center Timofey Mozgov’s lucrative contract to the Brooklyn Nets, with the Lakers receiving big man Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick in that year’s draft in return. While Lopez had a lackluster one-year run with the Lakers, the organization used the No. 27 pick on Kyle Kuzma, who became a first-team All-Rookie selection and currently stands out as the only key member of the Lakers’ young core who wasn’t sent to the New Orleans Pelicans in this month’s Anthony Davis trade.
Meanwhile, Russell struggled in his injury-prone first season in Brooklyn but enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19 that saw him lead the Nets to their first playoff appearance since 2015 and finish second to the Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam in this year’s Most Improved Player voting, per CBS Sports.
Regarding the chances of Kyrie Irving signing with the Nets, Wojnarowski also said on Tuesday’s free agency special that the All-Star point guard has “gravitated over time” to Brooklyn and is expected to attract Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant and other top-tier free agents to the team this summer. As cited by Nets Daily, “Woj” added that the Nets are hoping to sign Durant to a four-year maximum contract — even with the knowledge that he may miss the entire 2019-20 season with an Achilles injury — and are likely ready to move forward with Irving as the only healthy acquisition among the two.