Why a LeBron James and Kyrie Irving Reunion This Offseason Shouldn’t Be Expected
In recent times, the notion of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving reuniting has garnered attention. However, the likelihood of such a reunion coming to fruition is far from certain.
A Distant Possibility
Reports emerged on Monday, with Shams Charania of The Athletic revealing that Irving had reached out to James to gauge his interest in joining the Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately, sources within the Los Angeles Lakers dismissed this as “unrealistic,” as reported by Jovan Buha of The Athletic. Furthermore, the Lakers have shown little interest in what Dallas could offer in a potential trade.
Contractual and Financial Obstacles
LeBron James recently inked a two-year, $97.1 million extension with the Lakers, marking the beginning of a new chapter for him. On the other hand, Kyrie Irving is poised to enter free agency in July. While it might seem more feasible for Irving to join James in Los Angeles, the reality is that such a move is also unlikely.
The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement presents significant challenges. Currently, the Lakers have only three players under guaranteed contracts for the 2023-24 season: James ($46.9 million), Anthony Davis ($40.6 million), and Max Christie ($1.7 million). They do hold a team option worth $16.5 million on Malik Beasley, and Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million salary is fully non-guaranteed until June 29. Additionally, only $300,000 of Jarred Vanderbilt’s $4.7 million salary is guaranteed until June 30.
Considering the salary commitments to James, Davis, Vanderbilt, and Christie, the Lakers have already allocated $89.5 million against a projected $134 million salary cap for the upcoming season. This leaves them with insufficient cap space to offer Irving his maximum salary of $46.9 million as a free agent. Consequently, if Irving were to join the Lakers, he would need to accept a considerably lower salary.
A sign-and-trade arrangement appears to be a more feasible option for Irving to join the Lakers. However, the collective bargaining agreement introduces further complexities. Teams operating above the first salary-cap apron (estimated to be around $169 million next season) are restricted from acquiring players through sign-and-trade deals. Hence, the Lakers would need to keep their payroll below the apron until June 2024 to pursue Irving through this avenue.
Even if the Lakers managed to convince Irving to accept less than his maximum salary in a sign-and-trade, securing his services would require difficult decisions regarding the rest of the roster. In such a scenario, the Lakers would have already committed $124.5 million to James, Davis, Irving, and Christie, leaving only around $44.4 million to be distributed among 11 players. Consequently, re-signing both Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, who are set to become restricted free agents, could prove challenging.
Roster Constraints and Building a Balanced Team
The contractual situations of Reaves and Hachimura further complicate the Lakers’ roster considerations. Hachimura, as a former first-round pick on his rookie-scale deal, has the freedom to sign a four-year contract with any team, including a five-year contract with the Lakers, with a starting salary of up to 25% of the salary cap ($33.5 million). The Lakers retain the option to match any offer sheet he receives.
On the other hand, Reaves, as a restricted free agent with only two years of NBA experience, falls under the Early Bird rights category for the Lakers. This allows them to offer him a contract starting at 175% of his current salary ($1.6 million) or 105% of the previous season’s estimated average salary, whichever is greater.
While a reunion between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Los Angeles cannot be entirely ruled out, the hurdles of contractual obligations, financial constraints, and roster management make it an improbable scenario.
The Lakers would likely be better off focusing on re-signing Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura while exploring alternative options to complement James and Davis. Building a balanced team that avoids the hard cap and offers flexibility could be crucial for sustained success.