What the Brooklyn Nets are really saying to Kyrie Irving:
“You think there’s great demand for your services on a long-term max contract? Then go find a sign-and-trade, or opt-in and trade, yourself. Good luck with that. Oh, and by the way, we don’t want Russell Westbrook.”
Kyrie Irving has until Wednesday to decide whether he will opt-in to the $36.9 million he is owed next season or become a free agent — and the second he decides, either way, a lot of his already limited leverage disappears. It appears the relationship between Irving and the Nets has severely deteriorated — he gave the team a list of destinations he would want to play for — and now the Nets are giving him permission to look for sign-and-trades (or opt-in and trades) for himself, reports Kristian Winfield at the New York Daily News.
While Nets GM Sean Marks and superstar forward Kevin Durant have yet to speak this offseason, Irving’s camp has requested and received permission from the Nets to speak with other teams about sign-and-trade packages, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.
The belief among both league and player circles is that Irving is gone and the Seven-Eleven Era is over before it ever began.
Of the teams on the list Irving gave the Nets, a couple of teams are not interested — the Clippers and Mavericks, according to league sources — and the idea of pairing Irving and Harden in Philadelphia is laughable.
That leaves three teams: The Lakers, Knicks, and Heat.
And according to multiple reports now, it’s really only the Lakers.
ESPN Sources: Outside of the Lakers, there are currently no known teams planning pursuit of sign-and-trades for Nets G Kyrie Irving. No sign-and-trades can be formally discussed until after 6 PM on Thursday. Brooklyn isn't believed to have interest in available Lakers packages.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 27, 2022
Sources told Sam Amick of The Athletic something similar: That Irving wants to force his way to the Lakers. That’s the only situation he is working on. LeBron James is reportedly open to it, and getting Irving is the Lakers’ only realistic path back to title contention this season.
However, finding a opt-in and trade that works for everyone is likely too big a mountain to climb. (Note: It would have to be an opt-in and trade, a sign-and-trade triggers a hard cap the Lakers would already be over. The problem for Irving is once he opts in he has no leverage, the Nets don’t have to trade him, he’s under contract for next season.)
The Lakers have two first-round picks and the limited value of Talen Horton-Tucker to throw in a trade, which isn’t that thrilling an offer, but that’s not even the biggest problem. To make the money work under the cap, the Lakers would need to send Russell Westbrook out in a trade — and the Nets have zero interest in a Westbrook and Kevin Durant reunion tour. The only way this works is to rope in a third team, and then things get really tricky. The Thunder could do it before July 1 but they will want picks and young players, and the Lakers don’t have enough of those to appease both the Nets and Thunder. After July 1, the Pistons have cap space, but they are looking to spend that on players who fit with them (Miles Bridges?), not taking on bad contracts. Orlando has cap space but it’s back to the Thunder problem of how may assets Los Angeles has to make everyone happy. The best deal may be a three-team one with Charlotte where the Hornets send Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier to Brooklyn, but if Irving is gone (and Kevin Durant follows) the Nets don’t want to be locked into that long-term money.
There just is no good Lakers trade for Irving. If Irving wants to play for the Lakers, he might have to take a $30 million paycut to play for the taxpayer mid-level exception of $6.4 million (and the Lakers would not have his Bird rights, complicating re-signing him for anywhere near the max).
There are other teams Irving could talk to.
The Knicks’ odd draft night moves were about clearing cap space to make a run at Jalen Brunson. New York sees what Irving is doing as a public negotiation tactic more than genuine interest and are not focusing on him, reports Alex Schiffer at The Athletic. If the Knicks decide Irving is serious, their best path to landing him is to shed a lot more salary — Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Evan Fourier, attaching first-round picks to them to get teams to take them — and create the cap space to sign Irving outright. Any sign-and-trade would gut an already not-that-deep Knicks roster (the Nets will want RJ Barrett to start).
The Miami Heat might be the most realistic option on paper — and Irving and Jimmy Butler are friends. Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, and a few picks might be the best offer on the table for the Nets. The idea of Irving in the Heat’s more militaristic culture would be interesting, but it’s the most reasonable trade to make for the Nets. Except, according to Wojnarowski, the sides aren’t talking.
Or, Irving and the Nets could act like adults, find a middle ground, sign an extension that neither loves but both can live with, and start chasing a ring. However, that logic is not going to win the day — sorry Nets fans.
Instead, Irving is out there right now trying to find the right trade.