The 2022-23 NBA season proved to be a huge success for the Los Angeles Lakers despite getting swept in the Western Conference Finals by the Denver Nuggets. Just the fact that they were in the conference finals alone is a massive feat for this team, especially when you look at their 2-10 start to the season and where they were in the middle of the year. Expectations in Los Angeles are extremely high, though, and when LeBron James is the face of your team, anything less than a title draws a cause for concern.
There is a lot for this organization to build off of heading into the offseason, but it is what LeBron James said in his postgame remarks that has everyone’s eyes and ears. While he did not say he is retiring, James left the arena leaving everyone wondering if that was the final time we have seen him play.
Obviously this scenario is really hard to envision, as James has been the face of the league ever since he was drafted in 2003, but this is certainly more of a storyline than it is a headline at this point. Losing 4-0 to the Nuggets is not the way anyone in the Lakers organization envisioned going out, making it a major disappointing for LeBron and Co.
With how wide open the conference was this season, this may have been Los Angeles’ best chance to win another title with James at the helm. As a result, the Lakers now have some big decisions to make entering the offseason. Their own free agents in Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and Lonnie Walker IV are at the forefront of this organization’s mind, but the idea of bringing in a third All-Star like Trae Young or Kyrie Irving also makes a lot of sense in order to capitalize on the last few years LeBron has left.
Trae Young-Lakers rumors spring up
The connection between Irving, James and the Lakers has long been documented, as they have been rumored to be targeting the eight-time All-Star dating back to last offseason. Possibly going out and trying to acquire Young draws even more intrigue, as The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported recently that the Lakers have had “internal discussions” about what a trade for the Atlanta Hawks’ All-Star point guard could look like.
Young was seen at multiple games in Los Angeles this postseason after the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this year, and things in Atlanta have been unsettling through the years. Since reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021, the Hawks lost in the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and Quin Snyder is now their third head coach in as many years.
Atlanta has a high payroll entering the offseason with Young, Dejounte Murray, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter combining to make almost $120 million next season, and it does appear that change is inevitable for this franchise. However, giving up Young does not seem to be on their mind at the moment.
Young has built a strong connection with Snyder since he arrived to Atlanta in February and does seem willing to remain loyal to the Hawks. Despite talk that he could request a trade in the offseason, Young wants to win with this organization, league sources told ClutchPoints earlier this month, and he does appear to be on the same page with his new head coach and the front office. At this point, it is much more likely that the Hawks will explore opportunities to trade John Collins or Clint Capela to upgrade their roster rather than starting over by trading Young.
The Lakers may very well be talking about the idea of pursuing Young, but the notion of actually trading for him this offseason is virtually impossible. As mentioned, there are no indications from Atlanta’s side of things insinuating that Young will be moved. Plus, Los Angeles would have a very hard time from a financial perspective making this trade without having to relinquish either LeBron James or Anthony Davis.
The Hawks’ All-Star point guard still has over $178 million guaranteed on his contract through the 2026-27 season and is set to make just over $40 million next season. With James and Davis already on the books for net season at about $93 million, Los Angeles would almost need to execute a sign-and-trade involving either D’Angelo Russell and/or Austin Reaves, plus include several other assets they are lacking. From Atlanta’s perspective, a trade like this it not appealing in any way. Should things take a turn for the worst with Young requesting a trade, they will have much better options to contemplate.
Kyrie Irving joining Lakers more likely than Trae Young
Finding a deal to bring Young to Los Angeles is just not that plausible for the Lakers, but pursuing Irving is definitely a very real possibility. An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Irving can sign with any team in the league despite reports that he already has a “handshake agreement” with the Dallas Mavericks in place.
If there is one team Irving may break his promise for, it is the Lakers simply because of all the talk surrounding him and James teaming back to up to make another run at a title. Believe it or not, Los Angeles could actually open up a path to signing Irving outright in free agency if they were to renounce the rights to some of their other free agents like Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell and Lonnie Walker IV.
The Lakers can create upwards of $30 million in cap space to sign Irving. The best part in doing so is that they would still be able to keep Austin Reaves, who is expected to be a priority for this organization in the offseason. There is always the option of a sign-and-trade with Dallas as well, but this move would hard cap the Lakers. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement putting restraints on taxpaying teams, a hard cap would not be advantageous to Los Angeles.
The notion of James talking about retirement and having to think about his future could very well just be the superstar sending a message to general manager Rob Pelinka and this front office. Playing with Irving again is something James has talked about, and he was a strong advocate for pursuing the All-Star guard both last offseason and ahead of the trade deadline this year.
This is not to say that James will retire if he does not get what he wants, but competing for championships is LeBron’s only goal right now and signing Irving absolutely puts the Lakers in a better position to do so entering next season.
Some type of change is coming for the Lakers this offseason. The big question is whether or not it will be getting James the help he needs or retooling the roster in the absence of the 19-time All-Star.