Lakers Rumors: After Awkwardness Between LeBron James & Russell Westbrook, Optimism Remains That Kyrie Irving Can Be Acquired
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers have seemingly been drifting apart for quite a while in the aftermath of the disastrous 2021-22 season — a process that appears to include a breakdown in the relationship between the 2017 NBA MVP and LeBron James.

Westbrook moved to L.A. in big part thanks to James and Anthony Davis’s insistence on forming a Big 3 with then-Washington Wizards star. They even celebrated Halloween together last year, with James dressing up as Freddy Krueger, Westbrook donning a Chucky doll costume, and Davis impersonating Candyman.

But the relationship between the three stars soured as the season went on — with the most telling evidence of that coming in the first Las Vegas Summer League game between the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns.

James and Westbrook sat on opposite sides of the court at Thomas & Mack Center during the game. The 33-year-old guard also didn’t come to greet the four-time NBA champion as the only Laker who attended the game.

According to L.A. Times writers Dan Woike and Broderick Turner, the odd interaction — or, rather, a lack thereof — didn’t go unnoticed around the NBA and has to do with the Lakers’ pursuit of Kyrie Irving with players remaining optimistic a deal will get done:

The awkwardness was noted throughout NBA circles, with strong beliefs that the Lakers’ biggest stars have been pushing for the team to trade for Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.

There still exists optimism among some players that a deal for Irving can be struck.

There have been signs pointing to the relationship between James and Westbrook deteriorating even during the 2021-22 season.

Contrary to vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, James and Davis didn’t give their OK to L.A. staying put before the trade deadline passed in February. Most reports claimed the Lakers’ efforts focused on trying to part ways with Westbrook but eventually failed to do so, most likely due to financial reasons.

Then, Westbrook appeared to have taken a swipe at James and Davis’ calls for him to “be Russ” during his exit interview. “Yeah, well, that wasn’t true. Let’s be honest,” Westbrook said.

However, the guard later said that off the floor, James and he “still stayed tight and that won’t change.”

Spurs could facilitate Westbrook-Irving trade for unprotected first-round pick

The Lakers have reportedly been chasing Irving for a few weeks, but the two sides are yet to find an agreement that would satisfy both sides. It’s increasingly likely a third team would need to get involved to close the deal with the San Antonio Spurs appearing to be the main candidate to engage in negotiations.

The Spurs are believed to be willing to take on Westbrook’s salary, allowing L.A. to acquire Irving if the Purple and Gold can send an unprotected first-round pick their way.

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