On January 27th, amidst the James Harden trade request, I wrote about how Kevin Durant and the Nets worst nightmare could be on the horizon.
Today on June 25th, that potential nightmare is quickly becoming reality.
Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets have reportedly reached an “impasse” during contract extension talks, leading to wide speculation that the guard will either opt out entirely, or request a sign and trade. Both scenarios would leave the Nets high and dry, dismantling any title hopes.
But would Durant be stuck in Brooklyn or would he also force his way out despite signing a 4 year max extension just this past season?
The long list of questions surrounding the Nets is never ending, but let me bring some clarity in a world where Irving is no longer on the Brooklyn Nets roster.
This summer, Irving and the Nets have four options: Irving can exercise his player option and test free agency next summer, agree to a max contract extension with the Nets for five years and $250 million, sign for less than that with a path to get to it, or the point guard could walk and hit the open free agent market.
Given the unpredictable three years Irving has already had with the Nets, their hesitancy to offer him the full five-year, $250 million max contract he’s eligible for is understandable. That contract would pay him more than $40 million for next season and closer to $50 million a year on the back end.
So it makes sense that Nets general manager Sean Marks was noncommittal in his postseason press conference when asked about giving Irving the max, citing his failed called shot in August, when he predicted the team would extend both Irving and James Harden before the start of the 2021-22 season.
Shams Charania reported the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers would all be interested in Irving should he hit the open market. Like Brooklyn, both Los Angeles teams are well into the luxury tax and lack draft assets to trade. Because of the hard cap, neither LA team could sign Irving if he declines his player option and becomes a free agent. For Irving to head west, he would need to opt into his player option and then be traded. The problem for the Nets with replacing Irving is each team has their own share of role players to offer in a sign-and-trade, but no sole player who is likely available can replace his talent.
Let’s break down each scenario for Irving and the Nets this offseason.
Irving leaves for nothing
This would be the doomsday scenario for Brooklyn, but it’s also the most unlikely one.
The Nets have the ability to offer Irving the most money and assuming it’s either dollars or years on a deal causing the stalemate, another team would likely need the Nets to satisfy his wishes and facilitate a deal.
But as long as the Nets have Durant on the roster they are in win now mode. Simply letting Irving opt out and walk for no return can not happen.
There isn’t a no-brainer deal that exists for the Nets amongst the three interested teams, which is why moving Irving but staying in contention is easier said than done.
Irving has truly backed the Nets into a corner, gaining all leverage, even after a 3 year stretch where he missed over 120 games.
If Kyrie walks for nothing, expect a Durant trade soon after.
Run it back with LeBron James
What a story this would be if it played out. Irving and James could reunite for another title after Irving asked out of Cleveland to run his own show, starting the dominos that eventually sent LeBron to the Lakers. And what about the possibility of Westbrook teaming up with Durant again after the Slim Reaper left him for the Warriors? Durant and Westbrook appear to be on better terms since their split, but given Westbrook’s $47.5 million player option, the repeater tax and of course, his past season, it’s hard to see the Nets agreeing to take back him in a trade.
It is a narrative driven league but feel good stories don’t happen without making sense first. The Nets would never take on Westbrook’s contract and this would have to form into a 3 team trade involving maybe Indiana or OKC.
Here is what each team would get in this scenario
- Kyrie Irving and Seth Curry
- Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton Tucker, Buddy Hield and Malcom Brogdon
- 2 second round picks via Lakers and Pacers
- Lakers 2027 1st round pick
- Nets 2023 1st round pick
- Russell Westbrook
Nunn and Horton-Tucker are the kinds of young players Brooklyn has made a reputation for rehabbing in recent years, but given the current timeframe, the Nets can’t be betting on projects. So landing both Hield and Brogdon as veteran players ready to win now, the Nets still come out on the other side as a team ready to contend next season.
For the Lakers they finally get off Westbrook and for a star player they couldn’t envision landing given their current cap situation and roster construction.
And the Pacers land two future draft picks to further build their asset pool for their rebuild. Westbrook’s deal expires at the end of the season, freeing up $47 million for the Pacers next offseason.
Most unreliable Big 3 in history?
This is probably the best fit of the reportedly interested teams to both keep the Nets in contention and address needs. The Clippers have the assets to trade away some of their depth while still retaining some of it.
Norman Powell, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris, Terrance Mann, Robert Covington and Reggie Jackson could all be assets the Nets could view as win now players.
Any package would have to start with Powell, who averaged about 19 the past two seasons. He’d provide a reliable scoring option alongside Durant and Simmons. Kennard led the league in 3-point shooting this past season at 45 percent and adding him would provide the Nets flexibility to deal one or more of Joe Harris, Patty Mills or Seth Curry to address other needs.
Throw in Mann as a young piece the Nets could further develop and the package becomes very enticing for Brooklyn.
Mann, who is childhood best friends with Bruce Brown, was born in Brooklyn and appears poised to break out next season after showing flashes throughout his young career. Covington and Jackson are veteran role players and would be much-needed athletic upgrades on the wing in Brooklyn.
For the Clippers, Irving would reunite with Tyronn Lue, who won a ring with him in Cleveland and knows what to expect with Irving.
Luka and Irving team up
On the list of teams Irving would be interested in joining was the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks are another team with interesting role players but lack that true second star to be Luka’s Pippen. Irving alongside Luka would be arguably the most lethal one-two punch in the league.
How would this deal work? Well a double sign and trade
- Jalen Brunson S&T
- Reggie Bullock
- Maxi Kleber
- Kyrie Irving
The Nets landing Brunson, who is an explosive scoring guard, while adding wing depth and shooting is a plus.
A closing lineup of Brunson, Seth Curry, Bruce Brown, Kevin Durant and Maxi Kleber would allow the Nets to play 5 out with lethal shooters all around. Doubling Durant would mean a wide open 3 for very good shooters. It isn’t a bad theory to run with if you’re losing a star. And if Ben Simmons ever returns then the lockdown presence is there too.
Irving follows in LeBron’s footsteps, but to South Beach, not LA
One thing about Pat Riley is he will do whatever he seems fit to win. Packing up a chunk of that young core he has developed is something he will do in a heart beat if it meant the Heat were title favorites.
This playoff run and even the Finals appearance in 2020 showcased the Heat’s need for a true scoring threat. Jimmy Butler is forced to be that guy, but it exhausts him to the brink of defeat in each series.
Landing a Kyrie (or Bradley Beal) would do wonders for Butler and the Heat.
But since this is a Nets and Kyrie article let’s focus in on the Brooklyn guard.
- Kyrie Irving and Patty Mills
- Tyler Herro
- Kyle Lowry
- Gave Vincent
Herro would be the primary young piece to go back to Brooklyn, and despite his poor playoff showing, he won Sixth Man of the Year for a reason and could one day develop into one of the NBA’s better scoring guards. Riley wasn’t pleased with Herro’s defensive effort at all during the playoffs and his inconsistent play at times can play him off the floor fast in a playoff series against elite teams like the Bucks and Celtics.
Kyle Lowry would likely join him as Brooklyn’s replacement point guard.
For the Nets the package isn’t bad. Herro can be a spark plug and give Durant rest while Lowry is the ultimate professional point guard with a winning pedigree.