The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets need each other. The Nets don’t want to retain Kyrie Irving, and the Lakers are the only team interested in adding him via a trade. As badly as the Lakers want Irving, they likely want to move off of Russell Westbrook’s contract just as much. The problem lies in Brooklyn’s similar disinterest in employing Westbrook at a $47 million salary. No team in the NBA wants to pay Westbrook that much. If the Nets won’t, the Lakers need to find someone else capable of doing so. There are very few teams capable of absorbing such a contract.
But one possibility making the rounds? The San Antonio Spurs, who were first floated as a Westbrook destination by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus dove deep into the mechanics of a possible three-team deal from there, and in essence, the ice relies on the roughly $37 million worth of cap space the Spurs are capable of creating. That isn’t quite enough to absorb Westbrook outright, but if the Lakers were willing to take back a role player like Josh Richardson or Doug McDermott, that could cover the difference. The Spurs would presumably be compensated for their troubles with a first-round pick. The Lakers have two tradable first-rounders in 2027 and 2029. The Nets would create a $37 million trade exception by dealing for Irving without taking money back.
There are a couple of major obstacles the teams involved would need to clear before making such a deal, though. The first is Gregg Popovich’s longstanding reluctance to deal with the Lakers. The Lakers and Spurs last made a trade in 1990, when Popovich was just an assistant under Larry Brown in San Antonio. In 2018, when the Lakers were attempting to land Kawhi Leonard, Mark Heisler of The Orange County Register reported that “it’s one of Popovich’s cardinal rules not to help Western Conference rivals, much less one with the tradition and resources of the Lakers.” Popovich publicly complained about the Lakers acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008, saying “what they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension.” The two sides here are not especially friendly.
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But the Spurs appear to be headed into a rebuild, and strategically speaking, it might make sense for them to help the Lakers in this instance because relieving them of future draft capital would make them vulnerable in a few years when the Spurs are presumably planning to contend again. It’s not as though San Antonio has many other uses for that cap space at this point in the offseason. While there are usually other teams looking to save money, the idea of an unprotected Lakers pick when LeBron James is in his 40s is probably the best asset San Antonio can expect to get as a dumping ground.
And then there’s the matter of the role players changing hands. Would Brooklyn want someone like Richardson, McDermott or Jakob Poeltl? Would the Lakers themselves demand their choice of those players, or Joe Harris or Seth Curry from Brooklyn? Irving and Westbrook are the principal figures in a possible deal, but the role players matter here as well.
Overall, the Nets don’t appear to be in any sort of rush. Their focus right now is on resolving the Kevin Durant situation. San Antonio might provide an acceptable home for Westbrook when the time to trade Irving comes, but all signs point to protracted negotiations for now.