The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets were considered the far-and-away favorites to participate in this year's NBA Finals before the season began. Then basketball was actually played and everything fell apart one way or another for both teams. Injuries forced superstars to miss time. Russell Westbrook didn't fit as envisioned. And, of course, Kyrie Irving missed two-thirds of the year because he was not vaccinated and thus could not play in New York under the city's rules.
Nobody really knew what was going to happen with Irving due to the unprecedented nature of the situation. The Nets decided against trading him to a city where he can play in exchange for guys who will actually suit up on the court in Brooklyn and waited it out. That paid off, as Irving was able to return on a full-time basis for the last dozen or so games of the year. But it didn't pay off in the form of playoff success; the Nets were swept by the Boston Celtics in Round 1, at least in part due to a complete lack of chemistry and continuity on the roster.
As it turns out, the Lakers apparently had their eye on Irving while he was sitting at home and considered trading for him early in the year. Per Ian Begley of SNY:
Several outlets, including SNY, reported that the Nets had been open to talking to teams about potential Irving trades during that time. Obviously, nothing came to fruition. But some members of the Lakers organization discussed the possibility of trading for Irving during that stretch of the season, sources say.
The deal would have obviously reunited Irving with LeBron James. It’s unclear if the Lakers reached any internal consensus on Irving at the time. And it doesn’t really matter at this point. Given where Brooklyn is at the moment, it would be surprising if the club didn’t sign Irving to a multi-year extension/new contract this summer as it continues to pursue a title.
Well, that really would've been something. Especially since the Lakers' only path to pulling that trade off would've been to convince the Nets to reunite Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It probably would not have gone well but it's hard to imagine it going worse than how Westbrook's season in Los Angeles did.
The real question is if Irving would've even agreed to play. There was a report that surfaced before the season began that Irving would flat-out retire if he ever got traded. The superstar point guard vaguely alluded to these rumors and denied them while he was out due to the mandate, but the fact that it even got to the aggregation point was probably a big deterrent in any possible trade. It certainly doesn't feel outlandish to think Irving would actually do something like that.
A fun alternate reality to consider, if only for the chaos.