Could a LeBron-Kyrie Reunion Actually be in the Works?

You know if you read this site that I always say LeBron and Kyrie were the most skilled duo in NBA history. If not for injuries in 2015, and KD joining the Warriors to form the most unbeatable juggernaut in NBA history in 2016, LeBron and Kyrie would’ve won multiple rings. I’ve also always said that some day, Kyrie will realize what a mistake he made in requesting that trade from the Cavaliers in 2017.

Well, that day seems to have arrived. The New York Post recently ran the story: Kyrie Irving: My immaturity, isolation cost Cavaliers ‘more championships’.

Kyrie didn’t fully admit that he regrets leaving LeBron, but he acknowledged that he has some regrets over how the whole process went down:

Kyrie Irving discussed why he asked out of Cleveland just a year after winning a title, and how the blowback he got in the aftermath shaped who he is today. 

The Nets star — who has a decision to make next month on whether to opt-in to the final year of his Brooklyn contract — sat down for the latest “I Am Athlete” episode. He lifted the lid on a host of topics, including saying the Cavaliers would’ve stayed together longer and won more if he’d been more mature. 

“If I was in the same maturity line and understanding of who I am, and I look back, we definitely, definitely would’ve won more championships, because there would’ve been a better man-to-man understanding about what I’m going through. I didn’t know how to share my emotions,” Irving said. “I didn’t know how to do that. So instead of sharing, I isolated myself. 

“I just started pouring myself more into the game — I had one of my better seasons but I wasn’t connecting with everybody as much during the championship year. So 2017, it was a different year for us. We went against Golden State, we went against a great team. When you’re not a great team and not clicking on all cylinders and together, you’re easily defeated. You’re defeated before you can get to the arena.” 

While Irving has a $36.5 million opt-in decision to make, he’s at a different place in his life than he was when he asked out of Cleveland at 24. In hindsight, he regrets not speaking to LeBron James beforehand.

“We didn’t talk during that time,” Irving admitted. “When I look back on what I was going through at that time, I wish I did, because it would’ve been a good understanding of what the future will hold for both of us and we know how much power we both had together. Me and him in the league together running Cleveland, and then being able to put a better team together every single year would’ve definitely been worth it.” 

[Irving] opened up about how, at 24, he sat with Cavs brass and told them he’d prefer a trade, and intended to speak with James about it but the news got leaked before that conversation took place. To compound matters, he was abroad in China when it did.

“I’m not even on American soil so I can’t even get on to defend myself … and I didn’t have a sense of how to manage that when all the media’s coming after me,” Irving said. “It took me six years to even talk about it openly because I’m comfortable with my decision. Before I was questioning, ‘Yo, did I do this the right thing? I left one of the best players in the game.’ And I started listening to that. 

I really don’t think we’re getting the full story from Irving here. For one thing, why didn’t he talk to LeBron at all? Was he afraid?

Second, what were those future plans he alluded to? And why was he against them?

And the whole part about how he was abroad in China at the time: he was the one who demanded the trade. He could’ve waited until his trip was over. If I had to guess I would say maybe Kyrie actually planned his trade request around his trip to China, so that he wouldn’t have to face LeBron, and so that he wouldn’t have to face the media about it. But that’s just me.

Ultimately, rehashing the past is pointless, though. What really matters is that it seems like Kyrie fully understands how big a mistake he made leaving LeBron back in 2017.

It was all set up for them to dominate the league for years to come–LeBron, Kyrie, Kevin Love and Tyronn Lue. Yes, they ran into an apparent brick wall in Golden State in 2017. And right after that was when Kyrie bailed on the Cavs.

But while that 2017 Warriors squad was an unbeatable behemoth, the 2018 squad was less invincible. Houston would’ve beaten them in the 2018 Western Conference Finals if CP3 hadn’t torn his hamstring at the end of game 5. Houston had a 3-2 lead, and then in the final two potential closeout games, they went on probably the worst extended three point shooting run in NBA history. In the final six quarters of that series–so the second half of Game 6 and all of Game 7–Houston as a team shot a combined 11-61 from three, or 18.1%.

Now, of course, the Warriors were far and away better than the Kyrie-less Cavs in the 2018 Finals, but maybe with Kyrie, the Cavs could’ve won that series.

And in 2019, the Raptors were able to take advantage of injuries to both KD and Klay Thompson in the Finals to beat the Warriors in 6. That could’ve been the Cavs if Kyrie had stayed in Cleveland.

Because if Kyrie had stayed in Cleveland, then maybe LeBron doesn’t leave following the 2018 season.

When LeBron went back to Cleveland following the 2014 season, he wrote in that famous SI article that he planned to finish his career in Cleveland. I think he said that expecting Kyrie to be by his side the whole time, though. And when Kyrie left, it changed everything.

Kyrie now realizes all of this, I think.

Maybe, in the moment, it wasn’t fully apparent to him just how special a duo he and LeBron were. They led a 3-1 Finals comeback against a 73-win team. That’s why I firmly believe they’re the most skilled duo in NBA history–very few other duos could’ve done what they did. The Warriors were the superior team in 2016, for sure. They were more efficient on offense, they were better on defense, and they were deeper. But it was the unmatched brilliance of LeBron and Kyrie that made the difference.

With Kyrie and LeBron, the Cavs had the two best at-the-rim scorers in the league. In the playoffs, that makes you almost unstoppable.

I think another factor here that caused Kyrie to open up and reveal all of this is that he’s seen just how difficult it is to be “The Man” and not have LeBron on his team.

Kyrie has been in the NBA for 11 seasons now, and three of them were with LeBron. In those three seasons with LeBron, Kyrie went to the Finals three times and won one Championship. They probably would’ve won in 2015 if Kyrie didn’t hurt his knee in Game 1 of the Finals. And if KD didn’t go to the Warriors, the Cavs probably would’ve won again in 2017.

But in the seasons without LeBron, Kyrie has not seen anywhere near as much success. In his first three seasons in Cleveland prior to LeBron’s return, the Cavs didn’t make the playoffs once. His teams’ combined record in those seasons: 78-145.

After leaving the Cavs, Kyrie went to Boston, and the team had some success, although he was definitely not a fit with that roster and the Celtics were probably better without him. They made it to the Conference Finals that year with Kyrie missing the entire playoffs. In 2019, with Kyrie healthier, the Celtics went 49-33, swept the Pacers in the first round, but then lost in 5 to the Bucks in the second round. Kyrie was not great in the playoffs in 2019.

Kyrie then went to Brooklyn in the 2019 offseason, and only played 20 games in the 2020 season. The Nets made the playoffs without Kyrie or KD (who was out the whole year recovering from his Achilles tear), but were swept in the first round of the bubble by Toronto. Kyrie didn’t play in the playoffs at all.

In 2021, with Kyrie and KD back, plus James Harden in the fold, the Nets were arguably the best team in the league, but their season was derailed by injuries in the playoffs. Harden hurt his hamstring early in Game 1 against the Bucks in the second round and was never the same, Kyrie hurt his ankle in Game 4 and wouldn’t return at all. The Bucks ultimately beat the Nets in 7 despite the efforts of KD.

This year, Kyrie and KD were fully healthy, but were swept by the Celtics in the first round. Now, you could say it was Kyrie’s own fault that the Nets didn’t have time to gel, because Kyrie was unavailable for much of the regular season. But I don’t think they were beating the Celtics regardless.

This is just speculation on my part, but maybe Kyrie did some reflecting after that Celtics series and thought to himself, “LeBron would’ve never let this happen.”

Again, that’s pure speculation on my part. I have no indication that Kyrie is souring on his partnership with KD, or vice versa. But let’s just look at the facts: the Nets get swept in the first round, KD has a terrible series (as does Kyrie, outside of Game 1), and all of the sudden Kyrie is saying all this stuff about how he has regrets about how he left the Cavs in 2017.

This was just one part of it. There’s been a lot of noise surrounding Kyrie Irving this offseason.

Two weeks ago, he also tried to correct the record on his infamous slight of LeBron. When he joined the Nets with KD, he said something to the effect of, “I finally have a teammate that I feel comfortable with taking the last shot.” Most people understood that as an obvious shot at LeBron. But recently, he issued a sort of apology, saying: “I would never slight him… I respect the hell out of him and we’ve been through our own battles as teammates, as competitors together… that shit… that’s like water under the bridge.”

Also around the time Irving made that apology, news surfaced that during the 2022 season, the Lakers entertained the idea of trying to pull off a trade with Brooklyn involving Kyrie that would’ve reunited him with LeBron. Obviously the trade never happened, and was probably never really close to happening, but the point is that the Lakers considered it, and, furthermore, somebody wanted that story to leak.

Now, the question here is whether it was the Nets side or the Lakers side that leaked the story. I would assume it was the Lakers, because the report says it was the Lakers who were the ones entertaining the idea of the trade. But the report also surfaced via a New York-based reporter named Ian Begley.

So maybe the Nets were the ones who leaked the story. There’s reason to believe this may have been the case. For one, you had Nets GM Sean Marks’ comments where he basically said Kyrie’s status with the Nets is not exactly on solid ground.

The Nets and Kyrie Irving have to have some real conversations this summer about how much they want him and just how much he wants to stay in Brooklyn.

Rather, whether he’s all-in and willing to do what it takes to win in Brooklyn.

After a campaign in which Irving played just 29 games — absences that contributed to the Nets’ shocking first-round playoff exit — he has a $36.5 million player option for this upcoming season. He could opt out to become a free agent, or look for a four-year, $185 million extension.

So how committed are both sides to this marriage of athletic convenience?

“That’s something we’ve been discussing and we will continue to debrief on and discuss throughout this offseason,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said Wednesday in his first comments since his team was swept out of the playoffs by the Celtics. “We haven’t had any of those discussions yet, so it’d be unfair for me to comment on how it looks with us and Kyrie, because to be quite frank he has some decisions to make on his own. He has to look at what he’s going to do with his player option.

“We know what we’re looking for: We’ve looking for guys that want to come in here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selfless, play team basketball and be available. That goes not only for Kyrie, but for everybody here.”

But there’s the rub with Irving.

He has missed 123 of 226 regular-season games the past three years, for various reasons: from shoulder surgery to a nine-game personal leave last season to refusing to take a COVID-19 vaccine this season. That decision caused him to miss 35 of 41 home games, costing himself roughly $14 million and costing the Nets wins.

“Some are avoidable, and other excuses are of individual nature and those are the ones that we have to try and avoid. We need people here that want to be here, that are selfless, that want to be part of something bigger than themselves. There’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here. In order to do that, we’re going to need availability from everybody.”

Marks implied any extension talks would include not just Irving’s ability, but his availability.

“[Yes] 100 percent you have to factor all of that,” he said. “Certainly when you’re looking at players making 30 or 40 million … you have to factor in everything. That’s the hard part of the business. We can see what they can do on the court … [but] what makes them tick? What drives them? Do they want to be part of this? Are they motivated by something that maybe is not good for the whole team here? Those are questions we’re going to have to ask ourselves and also ask the players that we want to bring back in here.”

While Irving could become a free agent, that seems unlikely. Frankly, so does a sign-and-trade. The Nets and Irving seem tied at the hip, although Marks hesitated to make any proclamations after saying last summer that Irving would sign an extension before camp.

You’d think when it comes to a player like Kyrie Irving, signing him to a long-term contract would be a no-brainer and that Sean Marks would communicate as much.

But that has not been the case.

Maybe someone with the Nets leaked the Lakers trade story to let Kyrie know that they’d considered the idea of trading him, and that Kyrie is on thin ice.

Or maybe it was the Lakers putting it out there to send the message to Kyrie that they’re interested. As in, “Hey, Kyrie: we tried to trade for you during the season. If you decline your player option and become a free agent, we’d sign you.”

It’s impossible to say.

Another tidbit in recent days: Lakers GM Rob Pelinka met with Nets GM Sean Marks at the NBA Combine in Chicago, and the story made headlines:

It’s not been revealed what they discussed, but the most likely subject was former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, who is a finalist for the Lakers head coaching job.

But it’s possible the two discussed the subject of Kyrie Irving as well.

This is all just speculation and tea leaf-reading, of course. It still seems like a massive longshot to imagine LeBron and Kyrie reuniting. The main thing in the way is the Russell Westbrook contract still on the Lakers’ books–the Lakers would either have to find a third team to involve in the trade to take Westbrook, or the Nets would have to actually want to trade Kyrie Irving for Russell Westbrook, which seems extremely unlikely. When you consider how bad Russ was last season, and how toxic an asset he is right now, plus the fact that KD is on the Nets, it seems like the Nets are the last team in the league that would have interest in trading for him.

We know about the bad blood between KD and Russ, so there’s no need to rehash all that.

I mean, if we’re talking about LeBron and Kyrie reuniting, then obviously the subject of a KD-Russ reunion could also be a possibility. But I really don’t think so. For one, Russ looks like a shell of his former self. It would not be like turning back the clock to 2016. Plus, I think Russ was a big part of the reason KD left the Thunder in the first place: he didn’t want to play with Russ anymore. Russ was too ball-dominant for KD’s liking and has shown no willingness to change.

You could say the Nets would be trading for Russ to get his expiring contract off the books and free up cap space for the 2023 offseason, but if the Nets wanted to do that, they wouldn’t even have to make a trade. If Kyrie opts into his contract in the next few months, then the Nets will have him off the books in a year’s time. Or, if he opts out now and the Nets choose not to bring him back, then they have all that cap space available right now.

Plus, the Nets wouldn’t want to take on a bad contract to clear up cap space a year from now in a season in which KD will be 34 years old.

So unless KD has had some massive change of heart and now wants to reunite with Russ, I’d say there’s virtually no chance the Nets and Lakers swap Kyrie and Russ.

If there’s any chance of Kyrie going to the Lakers, it would have to be via free agency. I don’t know how the Lakers would be able to afford him, because they’re already way over the cap as it is, and even if they trade Russell Westbrook, they would not be freeing up cap space, but rather simply replacing Russ’s contract with other contracts of equivalent value.

Or, and this is something I’ve seen on social media only, what if it’s not a Russ for Kyrie trade, but an AD for Kyrie trade, with the Lakers then sending Russ to either Charlotte or Indiana? I’m sure an AD-Kyrie trade would be far more palatable for the Nets than a Russ-Kyrie trade, but who knows? If the Nets are concerned about Kyrie’s availability, taking on an injury-prone player like AD wouldn’t represent much of an upgrade. I guess the Nets might look at AD and believe their training staff could figure out how to keep him healthy in a way the Lakers’ staff cannot.

All this is to say, the practical reality of reuniting LeBron and Kyrie is murky at best, and in all likelihood, probably completely unrealistic.

But the fact of the matter is, Kyrie has been saying some things lately that would indicate that he may be trying to get back with LeBron.

LeBron has also made some overtures toward Irving, although less forthright than Irving’s overtures to him. LeBron in a recent Twitter Q&A said in a hypothetical 2 v 2 matchup with MJ and Pippen, he would want either Kobe, KD or Kyrie as his running mate. That’s a far cry from saying, “I want to reunite with Kyrie,” but it’s not nothing.

Ultimately, it all depends on what both Kyrie and LeBron do with their contracts. LeBron has one more year, but will be offered an extension in August. Kyrie can opt-in for another year with Brooklyn, or opt out and become a free agent.

While a Kyrie-LeBron reunion would be awesome, it’s probably a pipe dream at this point. But it’s still fun to speculate.

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