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Lakers mailbag: Kyrie Irving trades, the best new addition, the closing lineup and more

In Part 1 of our two-part Lakers mailbag, we cover Kyrie Irving, the Indiana Pacers’ trade package for Russell Westbrook, the best Lakers free-agency addition, the projected closing lineup, Kendrick Nunn’s health, Austin Reaves’ improvement, the rookie most likely to contribute and more.

Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

Is the only reason Kyrie Irving hasn’t been traded yet because Kevin Durant hasn’t been traded? — @JonShainberg

No. That’s a considerable reason, but there are many layers to the Nets’ saga. If you talk to five people, you’ll get five different answers. It’s been difficult to suss out what is true and what isn’t.

The Lakers and Nets obviously had discussions about a Kyrie Irving trade. But the Nets aren’t interested in trading Irving until Kevin Durant’s future is settled. They’re still willing to do their due diligence and evaluate their options to determine Irving’s market, but I’d be surprised if Irving is traded – to the Lakers or elsewhere – until there is clarity on Durant.

If Durant is traded, it’d make sense for Brooklyn to then try to move on from Irving (likely to the Lakers, if they haven’t traded Russell Westbrook by then). If Durant stays, it becomes a matter of how he and the Nets view Irving as a No. 2 option. There’s a lot of differing intel and a general lack of transparency on if the Nets would want to keep Irving in a scenario where they keep Durant. Still, Durant’s future should determine the type of trade package Brooklyn seeks for Irving.

The Nets aren’t interested in taking back Westbrook’s contract, which means the Lakers would have to include a third team – with the Pacers, Spurs, Jazz and Knicks as possible options — to accept Westbrook in a salary dump.

Then, there’s the matter of draft picks. The Nets’ initial ask was for two first-round picks. The Lakers haven’t been willing to give up more than one in any trade negotiations. I think that will change for the right deal, such as an Irving trade. But the Lakers aren’t going to budge, if they even do, until they feel like they must. They’re not at that point yet.

Do you think if Kyrie ends up staying in Brooklyn this season? Let’s say they lose in the first round. Is it a given he’s coming to LA as an unrestricted free agent next summer? — @RyanLucs1

There are few givens in the NBA, so I would hesitate to label it as such. But all indications are that the Lakers are Irving’s top destination if he leaves Brooklyn, whether it’s via a trade between now and the February 2023 trade deadline, or in free agency next summer, when Westbrook’s salary will be off the Lakers’ books.

If Irving remains in Brooklyn next season along with Durant, I think it would take a disastrous outcome – like losing in the first round, as you suggested – for the tandem not to remain with the Nets long term. That said, there are even fewer certainties with Irving than the average superstar, so even that might be too bold of a claim. He could easily change his mind next summer and sign with the Lakers or another team.

But considering the lack of current league-wide interest in acquiring him via trade, it seems like the Lakers are his most likely free-agent option next summer, other than the Nets. There’s also the uncertainty with LeBron James’ future, which we may gain clarity on this week since he is eligible to sign a contract extension on Aug. 4.

Had the Pacers accepted the Lakers’ offer to trade Westbrook for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, do you think the Lakers make that trade with the Nets’ situation still unclear? — @pickuphoop

Yes. The Nets’ situation is murky enough to warrant exploring other options, which the Lakers have. One of the hold-ups, as aforementioned, is that the Lakers don’t want to trade away a second future first-round pick if they don’t think the trade will make them a legitimate contender.

Adding Hield and Turner could have upgraded the starting lineup, as they would have replaced Westbrook and Thomas Bryant, respectively. The Lakers’ collective floor spacing would be much better. Hield would have been the best shooter of the James-Davis era, and Turner is an ideal frontcourt complement to Davis with his rim protection and floor-spacing.

But would that trade have represented enough of a jump into immediate contention? It’s a question the Lakers are weighing. Irving would give them, at worst, another top-20 player (when he’s available). That should put them in the title mix, even if it’s only at the back end of the discussion. Hield and Turner don’t present anywhere close to Irving’s playmaking or shot creation, but one could argue the defensive upgrade from adding Turner alone might be worth favoring the Pacers’ deal.

But, yes, I think the Lakers would acquire Hield and Turner if the asking price was only one future first-round pick.

If the Kyrie trade goes down, who is the best possible second player the Lakers could hope would accompany him in the trade? — @lukelebsack

Since we don’t know which additional team would be included in a Lakers-Nets deal, I think there are three players on the Nets that would substantially improve Los Angeles’ roster: Joe Harris, Seth Curry and Royce O’Neale.

To me, Harris is the top choice, considering he’s a top-five 3-point threat when healthy. That level of shooting is difficult to find and would be a game-changer for the Lakers’ offense. He’s also big (6-foot-6) and better defensively than most think. The lone concern is Harris’ health; he only played 14 games last season due to an ankle injury, and it’s unclear how that could affect him next season.

O’Neale would be my second choice, and arguably the top one if Harris’ health concerns linger. O’Neale has regressed defensively and isn’t big enough to handle the big elite wings, but he remains a plus 3-point shooter. He’s solid.

Curry was the best player of the three last season – a somewhat imperfect distinction because Harris was injured – and his floor-bending off-ball movement and shooting are also game-changing qualities for the Lakers’ offense. But with the Lakers also adding Irving, they need more size and defense on the perimeter. That’s where Harris and O’Neale are more valuable.

Which new signing are you highest on? — @LeSwiderman

I’m about equally high on four of their five signings, with the exception being Lonnie Walker IV. I think that Troy Brown Jr., Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant are all solid values on minimum contracts.

If I had to pick my favorite, I think Toscano-Anderson will be a valuable bench addition, especially in comparison to last season’s aging frontcourt options. I think he’s more skilled than he’s often credited for being. He has a chance to carve out a sizable role depending on how accurately he shoots from the perimeter, a caveat that applies to most of the roster.

I’m also intrigued by Brown. He was the second-best 3-point shooter on this roster percentage-wise last season, and he theoretically fits the 3-and-D mold that the Lakers so desperately need. He has a chance to start and/or close games if he can make shots at an above-average clip and defend well.

What do you think the closing lineup will look like this season? — @GoatJamesss

Based on the current roster, I project the closing lineup to look something like this: Davis, Toscano-Anderson, James, Brown and Reaves. I think Westbrook will often be in there, too, but it will depend on how he’s shooting, his decision-making and his defense.

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will have more power to bench Westbrook down the stretch of games, according to league sources. (Former head coach Frank Vogel did so a few times last season). That could eventually extend to removing Westbrook from the starting lineup as well.

The Lakers are light on shot creation with my proposed closing group, as Toscano-Anderson and Brown are more play-finishers, and Reaves, while capable of creating his own shot as he showed down the stretch last season, is more of a facilitator and secondary ballhandler.

James and Davis are locks, but Reaves is probably the closest thing to a third lock because of his versatile skill set. He can function as a secondary ballhandler –at least moreso than any Laker other than James, Westbrook and Nunn – and also defend either backcourt spot and smaller wings. His versatility isn’t found much elsewhere on the roster.

Toscano-Anderson has the projected edge over Stanley Johnson, but that could change in training camp, according to league sources.

With the fifth spot, Westbrook may have the advantage considering his status, but he may end up rotating with Brown, Nunn or Walker, depending on how they’re shooting that night.

I’m expecting Austin Reaves, with “starter” minutes around 30 per game, to average 13 points and five assists and shoot in the high 30s from 3. Is that realistic? — @RisRob22

I could see it. On a per-36 basis, Reaves averaged 11.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.7 steals last season. Adjusted to 30 minutes, and those averages are 9.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.6 steals.

One assumes Reaves should improve from his first to second season, like many players do, and it’s reasonable to envision something like 10-12 points, 4-5 to rebounds, 3-5 assists (depending on how much time he spends at point guard) and around one steal.

The biggest jump will have to come from his 3-point shooting. He made just 31.7 percent on 3s last season, but was at 37.8 percent from October through December. Reaves has been working all summer on his shot, but that’s the wild card in determining his success next season.

What are the remaining free agents the Lakers have an eye on? — @God91In

Any news on what the Lakers are going to do with their last roster spot or who they are interested in? — @DaBatmanProxl

What are your realistic ideal moves for the Lakers in what remains of the offseason? — @baller_aidan

I think the Lakers are done adding free agents. They’ve recently preferred to keep their cap sheet lower and their roster flexible with an empty roster spot. If they make a trade, they may also add an extra player, so they need that adaptability. They also could be players in the buyout market at the midway point of the season, as they were in 2020 (Markieff Morris) and 2021 (Andre Drummond).

The realistic ideal move would be trading Westbrook, either for Irving or for the Hield-Turner combination. Otherwise, I don’t think there is much worth pursuing. Acquiring, say, Hield or Eric Gordon in a non-Westbrook deal would improve the roster’s shooting, but wouldn’t dramatically move the needle, in my opinion.

Literally any Kendrick Nun update. Has he been playing at all anywhere? Is his knee good? 100 percent? Is it still healing? — @Paradox_EP

What are reasonable expectations for Nunn this year? Could he be like a quality offseason signing? — @FuzzyMcdonkey

Nunn recently spoke with Spectrum SportsNet about his health and said he feels 100 percent. He has been training with the younger Lakers – Reaves, Johnson, Wenyen Gabriel, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Mason Jones – during their Monday through Thursday offseason workouts. He hasn’t resumed five-on-five play yet, which is the next big hurdle. It seems like he should be ready to go by the start of training camp, but recovery isn’t always linear.

Nunn technically wasn’t signed this summer, but he’s essentially an offseason addition. He may end up being the best player the Lakers “add,” unless they make a trade. In the scenario that Westbrook is traded and the Lakers don’t get a lead ballhandler back, Nunn’s role could significantly increase, as would Reaves’ and Horton-Tucker’s – though there’s also a chance Nunn or Horton-Tucker is included in a Westbrook deal given their tradable salaries.

Do you think the Lakers will make it past the first round if healthy? — SportsM83105469

Is Westbrook still on the team? And, more importantly, is he playing? How much? Is he closing games?

I’d need to know the answers to these questions to make a reasonable prediction. However, based on the information we have, I think the current roster is capable of getting out of the first round depending on the matchup, if only because James and Davis are that great. There will be some matchups in which the Lakers possibly have the two best players in the series, such as against the Grizzlies, Suns or Timberwolves. That, of course, assumes we see the 2018-19 or 2019-20 versions of Davis, which may be unrealistic.

I think that any team with a healthy James and Davis is a tough out in a seven-game series, no matter the supporting cast. For as bad as last season’s team was, they were still 11-11 with James and Davis in the lineup (and 22-38 with one or both players out). That’s not great, obviously, but this season’s supporting cast is much better than last season’s.

The Lakers would be underdogs in most West matchups. I don’t think they can beat the Warriors or Clippers as constructed. I think the Suns, Nuggets and Grizzlies would also be decently favored. I think the Lakers could beat the Timberwolves and Pelicans in a seven-game series. The Mavericks are a tough call.

Again, this is assuming James and Davis are healthy and performing at the levels we’ve seen from them recently. If either player declines, the Lakers’ odds nosedive. Ultimately, I think the Lakers need to make a trade to position themselves higher in the West. As constructed, they’re likely a No. 6 to No. 9 seed, depending on health.

Which Lakers rookie is most likely to make an immediate impact? — @CameronSalce

I’m skeptical that any of the Lakers’ rookies earn a legitimate role in the rotation. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Cole Swider.

Swider was one of the best shooters in summer league and offers a skill set that none of the Lakers’ frontcourt players can match. He’s the clear-cut best shooter on the roster. His defense and lack of athleticism are hindrances that will likely prevent him from seeing the floor frequently, but if he can find a way to only be a slight minus on the defensive end, he may occupy a small but valuable role, especially in those LeBron-led bench lineups that rely on spread-out spacing.

Max Christie would be my second choice, particularly if his defense translates to the NBA level. There’s a chance he’s already the Lakers’ third- or fourth-best perimeter defender (I’d put Reaves, Johnson, Toscano-Anderson and an engaged James ahead of him. Brown and Horton-Tucker need to show more consistency.). Christie’s biggest issue has been his shot, and that must improve for him to enter the rotation.

I think Scotty Pippen Jr. is the odd man out considering how many ballhandlers the Lakers already have.

Top photo of Kyrie Irving and Talen Horton-Tucker: Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY Sports

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