NEW ORLEANS — With the trade deadline just five days away and Kyrie Irving having already informed the Brooklyn Nets he wants out, LeBron James was asked if Irving — whom he teamed up with for three NBA Finals appearances and a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers — is the type of player who can stamp the Los Angeles Lakers’ title chances.
Last month, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka declared, “If there’s an opportunity to get all the way to the end and win a championship, there’s no resource we’ll hold onto if we feel like that’s there.”
Trading for Irving almost assuredly would require the Lakers to include both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in the package, especially with other teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and LA Clippers also preparing trade bids for Brooklyn, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski .
“That’s a Rob question,” James said Saturday after the Lakers’ 131-126 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. “You got to see him when y’all get back to LA I’ve told y’all a couple weeks, I don’t speak for our front office. My mindset is whatever lineup or whatever group that we have is to make sure we prepare ourselves the best way we can to go out and win. Obviously, that’s a — what’s the word you use — ‘duh’ question when you talk about a player like that.”
James’ answer might have been a knowing nod to an answer he gave in December 2018 when asked by ESPN if the Lakers should trade for Anthony Davis.
“That would be amazing,” James said at the time. “That would be amazing, like, duh. That would be incredible.”
LA traded for Davis six months later, and the Lakers won a championship with Davis and James syncing perfectly in 2020.
If the Lakers manage to land Irving, it will also mean parting with Russell Westbrook, for salary-matching purposes, and ending a tumultuous chapter in team history that has been a tough fit for the 2016 league MVP and the franchise.
Westbrook was listed as questionable on Saturday morning with an illness, leading some to speculate he was going to be held out with a trade imminent, but he ended up suiting up. He had 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, four rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes — with just one minute of that playing time coming in the fourth quarter, as Lakers coach Darvin Ham benched him down the stretch.
Westbrook was asked if he feels any pressure hearing his name in trade rumors once again, after being included in a myriad of trade talks both in the offseason and leading up to last season’s deadline.
“I don’t,” he said. “That’s not up to me. Like I said, I’ve known this was a business since I was 18, 19 years old, since I got into it. My dad taught me that at that age, getting to this league is a business , and people make whatever decision they make. And I’ll make sure I’m ready and professional, like I always have been and always will be.”
The Lakers, as a team, looked borderline unprofessional on Saturday, allowing the Pelicans to score 70 points in the second half, erase a 12-point LA lead and snap a 10-game losing streak.
“The sense of urgency is at an all-time high,” said Davis, whose 34 points and 14 rebounds were wasted in the defeat. “It has to happen now. Guys know that.”
James scored 27 points to draw within 36 of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time scoring record, setting himself up to do so at home this week against either the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday or the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
But James played 40 minutes doing so.
It was the third time in the four games James played on the Lakers’ road trip that he logged 40 minutes or more.
“Well, guys have to come in and play better in those stretches where we don’t have to lean on him that heavily,” Ham said of James. “You want him on the floor because he’s playing at a high level and making plays, so we just have to control ourselves a little bit.”
James, who rarely complains about his workload, admitted the toll the extended playing time is having, with 28 regular-season games and a potential playoff run still on the horizon.
“It’s catching up right now,” James said. “I’m tired as hell. But I’ll be ready to go on Tuesday.”