The Nets and Kyrie Irving have not gotten any closer to finding an amicable solution that keeps the superstar guard in Brooklyn.
In fact, things are trending the opposite direction: 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. Irving only appeared in 103 regular-season games in Brooklyn, a three-year run ravaged in Year 1 by a nagging shoulder injury; in Year 2 due to absences for personal reasons; and in Year 3 due to Irving’s unwillingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in a city that didn’t create a professional athlete exemption in its vaccine mandate until weeks before the NBA playoffs began.
The Nets, as the Daily News reported in late May, have been unwilling to give Irving a long-term contract extension with significant financial guarantees. They do not believe Irving is committed to doing what it takes to be on the floor every game for his teammates. But they do not have the cap space to replace Irving if he leaves as a free agent, and the only teams that have the cap space to sign Irving need much more than the star guard’s services if they’re going to make the playoffs, let alone compete for a championship.
Which brings us to a sign-and-trade, and Irving reportedly has six teams on his radar: the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Heat, 76ers and Mavericks. A Durant and Westbrook reunion in Brooklyn remains unlikely, according to a source. The Knicks, Mavericks and Heat are the teams that have the biggest capacity to pull off a deal for Irving, but the Knicks and Mavericks appear to be in a bidding war over free agent guard Jalen Brunson.
Just how good a package can the Nets receive in exchange for the All-Star guard whose on-court productivity has often been hampered by off-court happenings? If the Nets cannot get a star in return for Irving’s services or assemble a championship-caliber team around Durant (and Ben Simmons), Durant – who recently signed a four-year extension worth $198M – can request a trade.
In other words, it remains unclear whether or not Durant will want to stay a Net if the front office essentially kicks his co-star out of town. In a recent podcast appearance, The Ringer’s Logan Murdock, who built a relationship covering Durant while he was a member of the Golden State Warriors and traveled with the Nets for a two-week period last season to pen a profile on the Nets star, said Durant “feels like the front office didn’t grow to understand Kyrie.”
That much was apparent a week after the Celtics swept the Nets out of the first round of the playoffs. Fresh off that Game 4 defeat, Irving took the podium and said he wanted to be a Net long-term and “co-manage the franchise” with Durant, Marks and Nets owner Joe Tsai.
Marks came out the following week and told both YES Network and local reporters that the franchise wants players who are committed to the team and can be available all year long.
Marks, however, also said he is committed to doing what it takes to bring a championship to Brooklyn, and judging by his hardline stance with Irving, the Nets must have some level of belief that they can pull it off without him.
That’s a tough sell because Irving, even with his shortcomings, remains one of the most skilled players in NBA history, with he and Durant reigning in their short time as one of the most talented duos of all time. The alternative to keeping him in town might be a team lacking the requisite firepower to compete against the East’s elite. And without that firepower, it’s hard to imagine Durant sticking around on a team that doesn’t have a chance at a title, which means the Nets could be headed back to the streets from which they came: dwelling at the bottom of the conference, headed for a perpetual rebuild, developing young players and hoping the ping pong balls bounce in their favor.