Rumblings that Kevin Durant would demand out of Brooklyn if Kyrie Irving were to leave the Nets was the biggest story Thursday night at the 2022 NBA Draft.
Durant, however, reportedly hasn’t told the Nets he would ask for a trade, just a map of how they would plan to contend post-Irving.
Of course, that all could be putting the cart before the horse. Irving and the Nets are still believed to be seeking common ground to keep him in Brooklyn, albeit with the mercurial guard looking for a longer guaranteed deal and the team preferring a shorter one. Nets general manager Sean Marks and owner Joe Tsai are believed to be in agreement on the matter.
The sides reached an impasse in negotiations, and multiple outlets reported that if Irving leaves, Durant — who arrived as a package deal with his longtime friend in 2019 — would follow suit in what would be a catastrophic worst-case scenario for the Nets, one that the Rockets would no doubt relish.
But ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that’s not a forgone conclusion.
“KD wanting to remain with the Nets is not necessarily contingent on if Kyrie Irving walks. That, if he walks, he wants to see what the roster could still look like, how it could be reshaped, how it can still be a championship contender,” he said. “[Durant’s] starting that new four-year max deal. This isn’t the transfer portal. You don’t get to say where you’d like to go. So if he decided and wanted and asked for a trade — which I’m told he’s not told the Nets he’s going to do or is ready to do — he’s probably not going to have a lot of say in where he goes.
“So that has to be part of [Durant’s] thinking if he does ask out of Brooklyn. But right now, I still think there’s a pathway for the Nets, for Kyrie Irving for Kevin Durant to find a way forward together. But it’s murky, and it’s uncertain. Listen, the future of this Nets organization very well is going to be determined here in the next several days to a week.”
Irving has until Wednesday to pick up his $36 million player option for next season. He could decline it and become an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with any team that can afford him.
And therein lies the rub.
With no contenders having significant cap space — the Lakers would be able to offer him a $6 million taxpayer midlevel exception, or a $30 million pay cut — Irving’s options are limited and his best leverage comes from his friend Durant threatening to follow him out the door.
But there is a perception among some league personnel that this is an artfully crafted and well-coordinated bluff.
Irving would prefer either a long-term deal to remain in Brooklyn or to leave via a sign-and-trade, so he can actually get a commensurate contract. He gave the Nets a list of preferred destinations — the Clippers, Heat, Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks and 76ers. The Athletic reported that “there’s an expectation that Kyrie Irving will now proceed shortly into finding a home via an opt-in and trade.”
A sign-and-trade would hard-cap the team getting Irving. Opting in and waiting a day would eliminate that hurdle, and make a deal easier.
But not all of the teams that Irving wants desire him in return.
The Knicks, for example, have been actively clearing cap space. They traded Kemba Walker and a first-rounder to the Pistons on Thursday, but it was in pursuit of Jalen Brunson, not Irving.
The Nets went into the draft in their building without a single pick (they deferred the first-rounder they got from the 76ers in the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade into next year). They gave Houston not only their 2024 and 2026 first-rounders for Harden, but the right to swap in 2023, 2025 and 2027.
They are also over the cap even if Irving leaves as a free agent, so they would need to be creative to maintain a winner around Durant and Simmons. Those are the conversations Durant will demand of Marks. Tsai liked a tweet that supported his GM and included “Team and culture > any one player.”
The Nets signed undrafted 6-foot-5, 210 pound Wake Forest guard Alondes Williams to a two-way deal according to The Athletic. He has a big frame if a middling reach, and averaged 18 points, 6.4 boards and 5.2 assists. Williams was tapped as a second-round pick in mock drafts.