multiple sources tell The Athletic that conversations about Irving’s future have gone stagnant between him and the Nets. An impasse currently exists among the parties that clears the way for the seven-time All-Star to consider the open marketplace, those sources said.
The Lakers, Knicks and Clippers are expected to be among the interested suitors if Irving heads elsewhere, multiple sources tell The Athletic.
Irving has a $36,934,550 player option for next season. If he wants to stay in Brooklyn but isn’t getting the long-term offer he desires from the Nets, he could force their hand by opting in. Of course, they could trade him anywhere without his consent. But his unrelenting drama has drastically reduced his trade value, and he could nuke it completely by threatening to retire if dealt. Maybe Irving and Brooklyn wouldn’t find common ground over the next year, but opting in would buy Irving time – and secure a high salary for another season.
Irving could also explore free agency – realistically, before his June 29 option deadline. That’d allow opt-in-and-trade possibilities, which could be crucial in the Lakers or Clippers landing him. Not only do those Los Angeles teams lack cap space, they’re so far over the cap, they’d have difficulty ducking the hard cap that’d be triggered by acquiring Irving in a sign-and-trade. An opt-in-and-trade would not trigger the hard cap.
A team must send out at least $29,467,640 if trading for Irving on his player-option salary. Contracted Lakers players besides LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook combine to make $21,303,759 next season.
Los Angeles obviously isn’t trading LeBron. Davis? The Lakers’ preferred goal is surely reuniting LeBron and Irving with Davis providing an element they never had with the Cavaliers. There’s the complication of LeBron’s and Davis’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, holding sway. But, for what it’s worth, Davis was reportedly interested in New York (albeit the Knicks) before coming to Los Angeles.
That leaves Westbrook. The Lakers barely have enough extra assets to offload Westbrook in a trade. Dumping Westbrook and acquiring Irving? That’d be tough to pull and maybe possible only if Irving both uses the threat of a team with cap room and demands to land in Los Angeles. Even then, the Lakers would have a hard time making it worth the Nets’ while while still compensating a team to take Westbrook. (This could be a multiple-team trade with Westbrook not necessarily reuniting with Kevin Durant.)
The Lakers could also sign-and-trade some of their own free agents in addition to including players other than LeBron, Davis and Westbrook to reach that $29,467,640 figure. But those free agents aside from Malik Monk are an underwhelming group, and any signed-and-traded player would have to agree – more complications. Plus, anyone signed-and-traded must sign at least a three-year contract (though only the first season must be guaranteed).
On the other hand, the Clippers have several players with upper-middle salaries who could be useful in an Irving trade: Norman Powell ($16,758,621), Marcus Morris ($16,372,093), Luke Kennard ($14,415,545), Robert Covington ($12,307,692) and Reggie Jackson ($11,215,260). But could L.A. entice both Irving and Brooklyn? Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Irving would make the Clippers instant championship favorites. Do the Nets like any of those expendable Clippers veterans? Terance Mann? L.A. could also deal its 2028 or 2029 first-rounder along with the lower of its own/Oklahoma City’s 2023 first-round and a 2025 first-rounder (that’d depend where the Clippers, Thunder’s and Rockets’ picks all land).
The Knicks have the most realistic path to opening cap space. Or they could include whatever veterans they’d unload to clear cap room in a sign-and-trade. Irving bolting for the crosstown rival would certainly be juicy. Unlike Durant, Irving said joining the Knicks rather than the Nets as a free agent three years ago was a possibility.
Teams outside those largest markets might be interested, too. If Irving really isn’t long for Brooklyn, chaos could ensue.