In a matter of weeks, the Lakers' front office has gone from punchline to power player, navigating their way into $32 million of salary space on the heels of trading for Anthony Davis. That's technically not a max slot, but it's only $700K short. It's hard to believe that a free agent who wants to go to the Lakers would let fewer than a million bucks get in the way.
In other words, the Lakers are in play for every big-name free agent outside of Kevin Durant, whose annual max is north of $38 million with 10 years of experience. That means Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, all the big guns are at least not financially precluded from considering the Lakers.
Any of those guys would constitute a super team next to LeBron James and Davis, but one of them makes more sense than the rest: Kyrie Irving. And it's not really close. Kawhi is clearly the best player of the group, but that's sort of the point. He doesn't need to join a super team. In fact, he's already knocked two super teams off -- earning Finals MVP with the Spurs when they beat LeBron and the Heat in 2014, and then again this year in dethroning the Warriors.
Kawhi also doesn't seem to fit from a personality standpoint. He's not a bright-lights guy, and a Lakers super team would bring the brightest lights imaginable. Every game will be a red-carpet event. It just doesn't feel like a circus Kawhi wants to join when he can go right next door and lead his own championship team with the Clippers without all the extra weight, or just return to where he just won a championship in relative anonymity.
But Kyrie reuniting with LeBron? That makes so much sense it's impossible to ignore. We all know the Brooklyn Nets have been tapped as the favorite to land Kyrie for a while, but that was before the Lakers created max room. Also, the dream Kevin Durant partnership is in major flux. Even if Durant were to join Irving with the Nets, or even with the Knicks, it'll be the 2020-21 season before they actually play together.
This Lakers super team is ready to roll, and we know what Kyrie looks like alongside LeBron. Kyrie on his own? We know what that looks like, too, and it ain't great. There's an ego factor here, to be sure. Does Kyrie want to look like he's still the little brother crawling back to LeBron because he can't hack it on his own? Probably not. But is the draw of potentially going down as one of NBA's all-time duos attractive enough to outweigh that concern?
It has to be a consideration.
You put LeBron and Kyrie back together, with Anthony Davis as the supercharged Chris Bosh, and you have what is very likely the most talented Big 3 in NBA history. You are the immediate title favorite, and not just for this year, but potentially for years to come. Let's not get into the "not one, not two, not three, not four ..." premature dynasty anointing that bit the Miami Heat, but let's also be real: This is about post-LeBron as well.
Kyrie is the most natural LeBron partner in the NBA right now, today, but he's also a perfect partner for Anthony Davis when it comes time to keep the Lakers on top after LeBron leaves, which is not something any of LeBron's team have ever been able to do. When he leaves, his teams fall off a cliff, but Kyrie and Davis were the Celtics' super-plan tandem long before the Lakers came into play. Davis is 26 years old. Kyrie is 27. You're talking about potentially four guaranteed years of pairing two of the most talented players in the world through the core of their primes.
This is amazing even without LeBron.
With LeBron, it's ridiculous.
And you have to think Kyrie is considering all this. The temptation to jump onto the biggest stage, and be playing for championships immediately, has to be tough to deny. It's only human. If the biggest, glitziest company in your field came offering you $141 million to be a nightly star of a blockbuster event, can't you see your impulsive excitement overruling whatever concerns you might have?
The X-factor in this might well be Durant. If he commits to joining Irving with the Nets, that's probably a done deal. But there are so many moving parts with that, and the timing matters. If Durant waits a bit to make his call, does Irving wait for him? Do the Lakers make an early commitment to Irving, if he's willing to do so, without waiting for Kawhi to make his decision? The domino effect is real. Timing is a major player in all this.
But at the end of the day, Kyrie with LeBron and Davis is so great, so fun and exciting, there had to be a real chance that all those factors end up taking a backseat and this just somehow happens. It's Hollywood, baby. The script is laid out. And you can't help but imagine how great the ending could be.