Will the Lakers get Kyrie Irving? NBA scouts and execs are torn

Rob Pelinka was unable to directly address any of the rumors about his team during a Friday night television appearance in Las Vegas.

However, he made it clear that the Lakers are not done yet.

“We have more work to do,” he said in the fourth quarter of an NBA Summer League game.

What the Lakers have done and what they still need to do was a common topic of conversation over the first weekend of Summer League.

It all started on Friday night when LeBron James and Russell Westbrook attended the Lakers’ opening game in Las Vegas, where the two stars never acknowledged each other. The awkwardness became game history, and people were still talking about it when the Lakers played again on Sunday.

The problem, alongside last season’s failures, was James’ not-so-secret desire to bring Kyrie Irving to the Lakers to replace Westbrook.

Rival scouts and executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are divided over whether the Lakers can strike a deal for Irving, with James’ looming early August deadline for a contract extension seen as a key date.

A league insider referenced the Lakers’ current salary caps — Anthony Davis is the only player signed after this season and represents a significant investment, though Talen Horton-Tucker has an $11 million player option that he has can exercise in the next off-season. The lack of long-term money on the books speaks to the team’s desire to remain flexible as James and Davis grow older.

That could mean moving out of their current star-driven state – three players in Westbrook, James and Davis swallowing all of the team’s salary cap space. Or it could leave the door open for a few new casts, maybe with Irving, alongside James and Davis.

Most league insiders felt a potential deal from Irving to Los Angeles would be on hold until the Nets traded Kevin Durant. And with the 33-year-old 12-time All-Star’s incredibly high asking price, it’s unclear if and when a Durant deal will materialize.

If the Lakers move on to other targets — Buddy Hield and Eric Gordon being the most commonly mentioned names — it could also result in the team sending out more first-round draft picks.

The general feeling among scouts and league executives is that the Lakers have done well so far given their limitations in free agency.

“I really like what they’ve done compared to last year,” said an Eastern Conference team leader.

The most controversial decision was that the team used its biggest free agency spend, the mid-level taxpayer exception, on guard Lonnie Walker IV.

Critics pointed out his inconsistencies behind the three-point line while playing for San Antonio.

“Why haven’t teams figured out by now that they need to surround LeBron with shooters?” wondered an NBA insider.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA. - DEC. 3, 2021. Lakers guard Russell Westbrook smiles after getting up.

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Defenders of the decision to sign Walker point to last season’s 31.4% shoot rate as an anomaly. Scouts have raved about his athleticism and character, although there have been questions about his decision-making on both sides of the ball.

A former NBA head coach said he thought Walker could be an explosive goalscorer off the bench for the Lakers, replacing some of the production the team got from Malik Monk last year.

Another league insider pointed out the lack of shooting in general in this free agency tier within the team’s price bracket. Guard Donte DiVincenzo, who has only a marginally better career three-point percentage than Walker, was considered but eventually sidestepped due to injury concerns. He signed with the Golden State Warriors for $4.5 million.

The Lakers have earned high marks in the league for getting Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant to sign minimum contracts to play centers. An insider who worked with Jones last season at Sacramento said he sees him as an improving player despite being a six-season veteran. Bryant’s offensive value alongside a healthy Davis should put the Lakers some distance, with a serious knee injury two seasons ago offering plenty of upside.

Juan Toscano-Anderson’s tenacity and attitude also finds tremendous support in league circles, although some worry about waning athleticism. As a willing defender, they still saw the obligation positively.

Troy Brown Jr. has received some mixed reviews from scouts and executives, with concerns centering on his readiness for a big role, especially on a team with high expectations. Brown shot nearly 38% from three-point range after Christmas last season, and his fans believe he’s the type of player whose versatility can help a team win.

“I have a little love for Troy,” said one scout. “Can play. Can do a lot, but nothing good. Concerned about his shooting but doing pretty well [minimum-contract] Player. Size, length, plays both ends. I like this move.”

As for the Lakers’ rookies, point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. has impressed scouts with his defensive tenacity, with one scout comparing him to New Orleans guard Jose Alvarado. Cole Swider’s shooting was as good as advertised, but he has plenty to do defensively and second-round pick Max Christie is seen as a long-term project who needs to find his touch in shooting despite his defensive readiness and rebounding skills having looked good in the Summer League.

“Just wait until he goes up against NBA bodies,” said one scout skeptically.

The Lakers are currently armed with an empty roster spot, although they can create a second by forgoing Wenyen Gabriel. They can only use their veterans’ minimum exceptions to sign players.

Trades are still possible — Horton-Tucker’s contract makes him a likely part of a significant deal that doesn’t include Westbrook. And if Westbrook is back — still a sizeable if — a source believes the Lakers’ success would still be down to him.

“I still think Russ matters,” the insider said. “AD and LeBron can’t carry them all the way. Russ needs to deliver a starter level production and they need people to exceed their contracts. I think Lonnie, Troy and Thomas Bryant have a chance to do that and be good role players for them.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-07-11/what-rival-scouts-executives-think-about-lakers-roster Will the Lakers get Kyrie Irving? NBA scouts and execs are torn

Emma Bowman

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