LeBron James admits he was ‘disappointed’ Lakers didn’t trade for Kyrie Irving in ESPN interview

LeBron James admits he was ‘disappointed’ Lakers didn’t trade for Kyrie Irving in ESPN interview

EL SEGUNDO — One of the many things LeBron James said during an ESPN interview on Monday morning: He thinks the Lakers can compete for a championship as is.

If so, the 38-year-old has a funny way of showing it.

The more notable comment from his interview with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon was that he was “disappointed” that the Lakers didn’t land Kyrie Irving, his 30-year-old former teammate who was traded from Brooklyn to Dallas in a deal that was finalized on Monday afternoon.

“I’m definitely disappointed,” he said. “I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but (also) someone that I had great chemistry with – I know I got great chemistry with on the floor – that can help you win championships, in my mind, in my eyes.”

Added James: “But my focus is shifted now. My focus is shifted back to where it should be and that’s this club now and what we have in the locker room. It’s a quick pivot. It don’t take me long.”

The question might be if the Lakers believe that James, who is being spotlighted this week as he prepares to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, is “10 toes down” on the current roster.

The NBA trade deadline looms Thursday at noon PT, and the 13th-place Lakers (25-29) are stuck at the back of a Western Conference glut of 11 teams separated by only five games in the standings. The implication of James’ disappointment about not landing Irving – voted an All-Star starter this season – is that the Lakers would have had to ship out teammate Russell Westbrook, the 34-year-old guard who James helped stump for to come to L.A. in a summer 2021 trade.

The dream of a Big Three of James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook has evidently not worked well: Injuries and poor on-court chemistry led to them missing the playoffs last season, and they’re on track to miss out again this season. In his season-and-a-half with the Lakers, Westbrook has seen his on-court role shrink to sixth man as his production and efficiency have dipped as well.

On the one hand, it’s not surprising that James would jump at the opportunity for the Lakers to swap Westbrook and some assets for Irving, with whom he went to three straight NBA Finals and won a championship in Cleveland. On the other, it’s rare even within the drama-fueled NBA for a superstar to show so much public enthusiasm for potentially trading away a high-profile teammate.

“We had an opportunity, our names were out there, the Lakers name was out there,” James said about not ultimately dealing for Irving. “We had an opportunity, it didn’t happen. We move on and we finish this season strong, try to get a bid into the postseason, where I feel if we go in healthy, we can compete with anybody.”

Westbrook declined requests to speak with the media at Monday’s practice. James also left practice without speaking to a gaggle of reporters, many of whom arrived in anticipation of his looming eclipse of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points) as the NBA’s leading career scorer. James – who needs 36 points to supplant Abdul-Jabbar atop the scoring list – did not participate to limit the physical toll on his body, but he was a vocal participant according to Coach Darvin Ham.

Depending on whether the Lakers make a move at the deadline, the rookie head coach might have a lot of diplomacy to do in the locker room. But Ham suggested that the Lakers were on the same page.

“We’ve seen how good we can be,” he said. “We’ve beaten some of the best in the league and we’ve gone toe-to-toe with some of the best in the league and we’ve seen when we’re hitting on all cylinders how good of a team we truly can be and we’ve tried to make that the focus. Not who is potentially coming to be on the Lakers or how many games we are going to win in March or April, or whatever.”

When asked if he talked to James about his interview (which aired on ESPN during the Lakers’ practice) and specifically about his sentiments on Irving, Ham said no: “I only deal with Lakers business. I don’t talk about what’s going on with other teams.”

The Lakers have explored options since the last trade deadline in 2022 to trade Westbrook, who has expressed frustration throughout his Lakers tenure regarding the consistency of his role and feeling scapegoated for the team’s overall struggles. Few options have taken hold, and the Lakers entered the 2022-23 season with the hope that Ham could help Westbrook find a niche and rehabilitate his trade value.

They’ve largely been unwilling to part with their two tradeable first-round draft picks, though they reportedly offered both to the Nets to get Irving over the weekend. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has stressed the need for the franchise to wait for a move that makes the team a “frontrunner” to validate using their most prized assets.

In the meantime, Westbrook has been the team’s most available player, with a team-high 51 games played while averaging 15.7 points, 7.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds, but shooting only 41.4% overall and below 29% from 3-point range on four attempts per game. Ham emphasized that Westbrook has handled the trade deadline speculation, a now familiar cloud over him, as well as the team could hope.

“He’s showing up, doing his job, being a professional,” Ham said of Westbrook. “And that’s all you can do for any of us. 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.”

James also had a cryptic tweet after the Irving deal, “Maybe It’s Me,” that Wilbon asked him about, which James said was about personal accountability.

“I’m always challenging myself, taking accountability for myself,” he said. “I think your greatest challenge and your greatest enemy is the person that you look in the mirror. So I’m always just trying to take accountability for me. You know, what can I do better? How can I be better? Is there things I can do more? Is there things I can do to be greater at to not only help the ballclub and everybody all automatically think it’s basketball, but it’s in life in general.”


An original two weeks off to deal with left hamstring soreness turned into more than a month for second-year guard Austin Reaves, who had started the season as one of the team’s most consistent role players. But Tuesday night against Oklahoma City, Reaves is listed as probable for his first game since Jan. 4, missing 16 contests in the interim.

“It’s been frustrating,” Reaves admitted. “I just want to play basketball. The two things I really enjoy, basketball and golf, I couldn’t do either one. It’s been hard. But we’re finally getting there.”