LeBron James continues pursuit of scoring record in wake of Kyrie Irving trade
Forget the tweets, the fake trades cooked up online or the real conversations behind the scenes that ultimately led to nothing.
The Lakers must move forward, and Monday in the wake of their failed pursuit of star point guard Kyrie Irving, they did just that.
The extent of the fallout of that pursuit, though, still is being fully sorted through.
One day after tweeting “Maybe It’s Me,” LeBron James spoke with ESPN before Lakers practice and said he was “disappointed” that the Lakers lost out on Irving. Still, he was refocused on the Lakers’ challenges in front of them.
“My focus has shifted back to where it should be and that’s this club and what we have in the locker room. …That’s a quick pivot. It don’t take me long,” James told ESPN’s Michael Wilbon. “I don’t get too excited about the possibilities of things that can be. I kinda envision myself on what it can, but I don’t invest all the way in until I know it’s happening. And when it does not happen, I’m back, locked into the job at hand.
“We had an opportunity,” James said of acquiring Irving, who ended up being dealt to Dallas. “Our names were out there, the Lakers’ name was out there. We had an opportunity, didn’t happen and we move on and we finish the season strong.”
All of this comes with James just 36 points from becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, which led to a packed press room at Lakers practice Monday.
James didn’t practice — given the day off for rest — and per NBA rules, he wasn’t required to speak to the media.
Russell Westbrook, who was a part of the Lakers’ trade offers for Irving, declined to speak after practice, though his friends and his brother, Ray, shared their disappointment with the situation.
“When has any of these antics from the last week been respectable or acceptable from a teammate? I’m very curious,” Ray Westbrook reposted on Instagram.
The post originally was shared by Russell Westbrook’s longtime friend and business partner Donnell Beverly.
Coach Darvin Ham said Westbrook showed no signs of anger or disappointment at practice, saying that he’s remained locked in despite the ongoing rumors as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.
“He’s showing up, doing his job, being a professional. And that’s all you can do for any of us,” Ham said. “This is an unforgiving business in terms of different coverage. In terms of covering scenarios. Dealing with rumors. Different things happening. All you can do is put your head down and do your work and try to remain as professional as possible and he’s done that.”
In addition to the trade rumors, Westbrook hardly played in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss at New Orleans — a decision that was met with some disagreement from Lakers players.
“We go with whoever we feel is a good combination of guys to finish with,” Ham said. “He’s been out there in a ton of games, finishing games for us. And sometimes he hasn’t. It’s just a matter of a rhythm. It’s not anything personal against Russ or anything like that. It’s just myself and my staff, we survey the game the first three quarters, three-and-a-half quarters and we make a decision and we stand by it.”
Westbrook remains in trade conversations, according to people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly, with the Lakers attempting to find a trade or trades that can help them climb from 13th place to the middle of the playoff race, where the team feels, if healthy, it would have a chance to contend. Guards Patrick Beverley and Lonnie Walker IV also are candidates for trades if the team needs to shed contracts worth less than Westbrook’s $47-million salary.
Toronto guards Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., Atlanta guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, Detroit forward Bojan Bogdanovic (who the Pistons repeatedly have said isn’t available unless they’re blown away by an offer), Charlotte guard Terry Rozier and Utah guard Mike Conley all are viewed as possible trade targets depending on how the market shakes out between now and Thursday.
Other names could emerge by the deadline as well.
People with knowledge of the situation said talks with Brooklyn for Irving were serious — the Lakers’ management and ownership aligned in the pursuit — but the asking price to compete with the Mavericks’ trade package wasn’t practical.
One scenario, they said, would’ve required the Lakers to include two unprotected first-round picks, guard Austin Reaves (who is probable to return from injury Tuesday), guard Max Christie and – in a separate deal to satisfy NBA trade rules – newly acquired forward Rui Hachimura. A more realistic package of both young players and both picks possibly could’ve been enough for the Nets, though the Lakers still viewed that as a steep cost — especially with no assurances that Irving, a free agent next summer, would accept a two-year extension or a less-than-maximum contract over four years.
But given the Nets’ desire for a more balanced combination of win-now players and draft picks, Dallas’ package of picks with guard Spencer Dinwiddie and forward Dorian Finney-Smith might’ve beaten anything the Lakers offered.
Asked about James’ disappointment and Dallas’ acquisition of Irving, Ham focused on his team.
“I only deal with Lakers business. I don’t talk about what’s going on with other teams,” he said. “… Everybody is trying to do what we’re trying to do and that’s trying to make their team the best they can be. I don’t pay attention to that. I have too much to worry about with this job.”
With history a possibility Tuesday, the Lakers will need to focus on Oklahoma City and let whatever happens next simply happen.
“All his teammates, everyone within the organization, man, we’re all pulling for him,” Ham said of James’ pursuit of the all-time scoring record. “Again, it’s just a testament to his longevity and the way he’s been able to keep himself physically in shape at an elite level. The way he’s continued to add to his game, it’s been a wonderful thing to witness from afar and now to see it up close, it’s been really, really special. But again, his focus, he hasn’t been caught up into that. He’s aware of it, obviously.
“But he hasn’t been caught up in that. His biggest thing is to win games.”
Staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.