Column: Lakers can’t win with Russell Westbrook. That’s why they need Kyrie Irving

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving smiles during a game.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving is interested in possibly joining the Lakers, and that means a lot for a win-now Lakers team that currently has a can’t-win roster.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

There’s nothing complicated about this.

If the Lakers can acquire Kyrie Irving, they should.

Why is this even a debate?

Never mind that Irving has an extensive injury history and is notoriously unreliable. Forget that he can destroy a team’s plans, as the Boston Celtics learned and the Brooklyn Nets are learning now.


Irving would be a gift.

He’s still a top-10 player when healthy and the Lakers don’t have the luxury of turning away a talent of his caliber, regardless of what a wacko he might be.

The plan for renewed glory shared by incoming coach Darvin Ham depends on cement-headed Russell Westbrook learning to play without the ball and participating on defense, which sounds about as realistic as my plans to retire next week after winning the Powerball jackpot.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and second-round draft pick Max Christie discuss his future with the team. It includes gaining strength and improving his shot.

June 24, 2022

The Lakers can’t possibly win with Westbrook. With Irving, they might. That’s pretty much the argument.

Built around 37-year-old LeBron James, the Lakers are in win-now mode but with a can’t-win roster. If general manager Rob Pelinka passes on an open shot for Irving, his next two calls might as well be to trade James and Anthony Davis.

Whether the opportunity presents itself is another question, as Irving’s reported interest in the Lakers could very well be a ploy to extract a more lucrative extension offer from the Brooklyn Nets.


Then again, when it comes to the unofficial spokesman for the Flat Earth Society, who really knows what he’s thinking?

Perhaps his compulsion to accentuate his individuality by taking extreme and unorthodox positions will lead him to do the unthinkable: decline his $37-million option with the Nets and sign with the Lakers under a $6-million midlevel exemption.

In that case, the Lakers wouldn’t have to find a place to dump Westbrook and could just release him.

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook falls to the court against the Utah Jazz on March 31.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

While Irving has sacrificed money to defend his misguided principles before — his refusal to get vaccinated cost him around $17 million in lost wages last season — the more likely scenario involves the Lakers finding a team to complete a three-way trade with the Nets.

A deal would almost certainly require the Lakers to attach to Westbrook their next two first-round draft picks in 2027 and 2029.

But what other options do they have?

They’re the Lakers. Their fans don’t accept rebuilding projects and they certainly won’t accept a rebuilding project that starts in five years.

This is more about where the Lakers stand than about Irving.

The Lakers need Kyrie Irving like they need another brittle body. Adding the enigmatic guard would be super weird, super chaotic and super dumb.

June 20, 2022

Irving forced his way out of Cleveland after winning a championship with James and the Cavaliers. He pledged his long-term allegiance to the Celtics, only to abandon them to play alongside Kevin Durant on the Nets. And now this.

Between missing games over his vaccination status, a protest of the Jan. 6 insurrection and a variety of injuries, Irving has played an average of only 34 games a season in his three years with the Nets.

These would be legitimate reasons to pass on him — for a team such as the Clippers.

The Clippers have a foundation. They should be contenders if they are healthy. They have something to lose.

The Lakers don’t.

They have compounded their mistakes over the years, one desperate move leading to the next. This process has left them stranded in a nuclear disaster zone of their own making, their roster now looking as if it was the result of a failed experiment conducted in a Soviet-era laboratory.

Lakers rookie guard Austin Reaves was nicknamed “Hillbilly Kobe” in college for his flashy play and Arkansas roots. A look at how he rose to stardom.

June 13, 2022

If there’s any reason for the Lakers to be upbeat about these sorriest of times, it’s that the choice has been taken out of the hands of their bumbling front office, at least with regard to Irving.

There is no choice. They have to do this.

Of course, even if Irving magically ends up on their roster, as James and Davis did before, many of their problems will remain. They still won’t have depth. James will still have to reverse the effects of age. Davis will still have to stay healthy.

But they will have taken a step, and at this point, a step in any direction counts as a step forward.