And the plot thickens.
New reports out of Brooklyn show Kyrie Irving’s camp pushing back on the idea that he wants to be traded from the Nets and even showing willingness from Irving to stay in Brooklyn if Kevin Durant secures the trade he has requested.
Irving, who opted into the player option on the final year of his contract and is essentially now operating on a one-year deal worth $37 million, has never wanted to leave the Nets. He has merely sought the best possible contract, which the Daily News first reported the Nets were unwilling to give him: the full five-year max contract extension worth nearly $250 million.
The News also first reported Irving’s camp’s request to find sign-and-trade offers from other teams. Irving accepting the mid-level to join the Los Angeles Lakers was never a realistic option, The News reported.
The Nets, however, have been the ones looking to part ways with the star guard ever since general manager Sean Marks took a public shot at Irving — twice in the same week following Irving’s decree he wanted to stay in Brooklyn long-term — saying the team wanted players who would be there full-time and committed to the team. The Nets later told opposing teams they were prepared to lose both Durant and Irving via trade this summer. That message was then siphoned to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who reported it live on national television.
Quite frankly, the situation in Brooklyn is a mess.
So let’s take stock:
We have a superstar — quite possibly the most gifted player in all of basketball — who has formally requested a trade, the biggest blemish on a Nets franchise once heralded for its culture.
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We have a hometown hero of sorts who the Nets ostracized for exercising his personal (albeit controversial) right to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. That decision tanked the Nets season, played a role in James Harden requesting a trade, derailed any hope of a championship last season and was the icing on the cake of a recent history of Irving prioritizing other things above being available for his team on the court.
We have a third star in Ben Simmons, who hasn’t played an NBA game in over a year and is coming off back surgery. Simmons’ status as a Net — even if he’s been seen smiling with Marks and Steve Nash at Las Vegas Summer League — is in question because the best Durant trade packages feature players like Bam Adebayo and Donovan Mitchell, who are on rookie-scale extensions and thus are ineligible for the Nets to acquire via trade as long as Simmons (who is also on such a contract) is on the roster.
We still have Nash as head coach, and Nash’s coaching skills — albeit in one very difficult season — did not earn him brownie points or new fans. We have Nash’s so-called protege, Goran Dragic, declining to re-sign in Brooklyn and instead joining the Chicago Bulls, taking a shot at the Nets on his way out the door by saying it was hard to play with Durant and Irving last season because everyone was worried about individual performances. And we have second-year scorer Cam Thomas apparently rolling his eyes when asked about Nash after a Summer League game.
Yet what we also have in Brooklyn is a roster that, if all parties return to the Nets, could still rank as one of the deepest and most talented in all of basketball. The Nets added T.J. Warren, Royce O’Neale and Edmond Sumner this offseason. They declined to make a contract offer to Bruce Brown, who signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Denver Nuggets, and retained Nic Claxton on a two-year deal worth $20 million. Patty Mills re-signed on a two-year, $14.5 million deal, and both Joe Harris and Seth Curry are still on the roster. The Nets also still have their taxpayer mid-level exception, which is worth up to a three-year deal worth $20 million that can be split between multiple players. You can be certain they are looking to use that cap space (or another minimum deal) to add depth at the center spot with Andre Drummond also signing in Chicago.
Yet the uncertainty surrounding Durant’s trade request renders everything else worthless. If Durant leaves, so do the Nets’ championship hopes because he is the great equalizer, and it remains unclear if the relationship between he and the Nets’ front office is salvageable. The News’ Stefan Bondy reported from Las Vegas that Durant’s camp and the Nets have resumed talking. The News initially reported that Durant hadn’t spoken to the Nets front office while they worked through contract negotiations with Irving’s representation.
And yet the saga must continue: There must be some finality to this chapter, be it a Durant trade or Durant rescinding his trade request. And if Durant is traded and Irving remains on the roster, ostensibly to lead this Nets team “into tomorrow” alongside Simmons, two examples in recent history — Irving’s Boston Celtics and Simmons’ Philadelphia 76ers — show how combustible a situation that can be.
Given the reality of Durant’s trade request — the Nets wanting more than the five-player, five-pick haul the Utah Jazz received for Rudy Gobert — there’s no telling how long this stalemate can drag on. The only thing that’s clear is Irving’s desire to remain a Net, regardless of whether or not Durant stays in Brooklyn, because staying in Brooklyn makes all the dollars and cents in the world for Irving.