On January 7th, the Brooklyn Nets were 2nd in the East at 26-13 after winning 13 of their last 14 games. Durant injured his knee during a win over Miami, and the Nets subsequently went 4-7. Not great, but Brooklyn woke up this morning as the 4th seed with Durant slated to return soon. Life comes at you fast.
Just six days away from the NBA trade deadline, star point guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade today from the Nets. Despite Irving’s notorious history of making surprising decisions, he continued to shock the world with a complete blindside. Brooklyn placing stipulations in contract extension talks apparently irked him, so this could simply be a power play by Irving.
It raises plenty of questions that need to be answered by February 9th, so let’s dive into whether the Nets need to trade him, what factors other franchises should consider, and the best landing spots out there.
Do the Nets Have to Trade Kyrie Irving?
Although it’s the age of player empowerment, Brooklyn’s front office still holds the cards here as Irving remains under contract. It’s a trade request, not a trade demand. The Nets must first figure out whether removing the stipulations (which presumably have to do with games played) would cause Irving to sign a contract extension. If so, then Brooklyn should oblige because they are not going to find a better partner for the 34-year-old Kevin Durant on the market.
However, if Kyrie really wants out regardless of the stipulations, then Brooklyn would be unwise to refuse his trade request. Irving is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so the flight risk detector reads 10/10. It’s extremely likely that Irving leaves with nothing in return should Brooklyn fail to deal him at the deadline. For a veteran team with minimal assets, that’s unacceptable.
Brooklyn could hope that a successful playoff run changes his mind, but it would be surprising if the Nets made the Eastern Conference Finals, much less the NBA Finals. Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Cleveland are superior teams with Miami, New York, and Toronto lurking.
Counting on consistently stellar performances from Irving is also dangerous, especially if his mood is affected by resentment for the front office denying his request. The 2019 Playoffs are a prime example; Irving seemed checked out during Game 5 versus the Bucks and ended up scoring 15 points on 6/21 from the field. He didn’t seem to care at all then, so what’s different now?
Brooklyn has to view this request as a demand and trade him for playoff-caliber players to surround Durant with. They could acquire draft capital and decide to enter a full rebuild this off-season by dealing Durant, but it’s unlikely the Nets organization is clamoring for tanking since their own first rounders are long gone.
Factors Franchises Must Consider
Because Irving is an upcoming free agent seeking a large contract, franchises must face the possibility that he’s a playoff rental. He could simply walk out the door during the off-season, which is likely if Brooklyn trades him to a small market team like Minnesota.
Even if the acquiring franchise reached an extension with Kyrie over the next six days, is the 30-year-old Irving worth the monster salary cap burden? His antics never seem to disappear, which makes him a potential headache every year. In addition, Kyrie’s playoff performances have also been lackluster since leaving Cleveland.
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) February 3, 2023
The NBA Finals is wide open though, and his skill remains undeniable. Therefore, I expect Brooklyn to receive many phone calls despite the extreme risk that follows Irving.
Best Landing Spots
With the demanded trade, both Los Angeles teams will be in the mix. But a sneaky Eastern Conference team could make a move.
- A point guard needy team? Check
- A huge market? Check
- A championship contender? Check
- An owner willing to plunge deep into the luxury tax? Check
- A team able to send back playoff-caliber veterans? Check
The Clippers tick off every box and remain the best trade partner for the Nets. Reggie Jackson and John Wall are solid backup point guards, but they absolutely cannot start during the playoffs. Los Angeles knows this, so they have been handing the keys to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George every possession while not having a point guard on the court. Irving’s ball handling and playmaking skills are sorely needed, and he would boost a Clippers team that ranks 23rd in Offensive Rating. Los Angeles also has plenty of defenders to compensate for Irving on the less glamorous end.
As for trade logistics, the Clippers can send some combination of Marcus Morris, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, or John Wall. They will easily be able to match Irving’s $36M salary, and Brooklyn receives playoff rotation pieces to build around Durant, Claxton, O’Neale, Curry, and Harris. The Paul George trade still wipes out their draft capital, but Los Angeles could attach a 2028 1st rounder.
Overall, the Clippers make too much sense across the board as a trade partner for the Nets. If Irving is serious about a trade and not simply angling for an extension, then the Clippers are the favorites to land him.
The Lakers also need a point guard upgrade and more three-point shooting. Irving fits the bill, and he’s already won a championship with LeBron James. Assuming Davis stays healthy (a big if) and Irving’s stay is smooth sailing (another big if), then the Lakers would actually be a championship contender. However, the details are messy.
Because of Kyrie’s large salary, Russell Westbrook needs to be in the trade. His contract is $11M more than Irving’s though, so the Nets would also include either Patty Mills, Joe Harris, or Seth Curry in that order of probability. That is highway robbery for the Lakers, so their 2026 1st and/or their 2028 1st rounders will likely have to be in the trade as well. While it provides Brooklyn more draft capital, it doesn’t fit what they are looking for. As a non-shooter, Westbrook is a terrible fit with Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton. Plus, Durant and Westbrook have a stormy basketball relationship ever since Durant left for Golden State in 2016.
Overall, this landing spot makes sense for the Lakers but not quite for the Nets. Given that Brooklyn holds the power here, the Lakers are a decent but not optimal trade partner like the Clippers.
3. Miami Heat
The two Los Angeles teams are the clear frontrunners, but never count Pat Riley out from going big-game hunting. Although the Heat currently seek a power forward upgrade, they are another large market that could use an offensive boost. Miami also has the defense to compensate for Irving.
Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, and Dewayne Dedmon would be a solid trade foundation as they acquire a point guard to replace Irving, a versatile forward, and a backup center for Claxton. The Heat also have Victor Oladipo, Nikola Jovic, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, and decent draft capital to offer. For Nets fans wanting Tyler Herro, he cannot be had for Irving because of the poison pill provision.
A team built around Irving, Herro, Butler, and Adebayo with solid role players would definitely give the Eastern Conference a scare. One aspect to monitor though? Irving is the complete opposite of Heat Culture, which Miami takes seriously. The personality clash may drive Kyrie out the door by the time the off-season rolls around.
Outside of these three, it’s difficult to find a landing spot for Irving. Toronto? New York? Dallas? Few contenders need a point guard, and the contract headache is a major deterrent. Do the Mavericks really want to give up precious remaining draft capital when Luka is only 23-years-old and in the first year of an extension?
Small market teams also likely believe that Kyrie will leave during the off-season for a huge market like Los Angeles, Miami, or New York. On February 10th, I expect Kyrie to be on the Nets, Clippers, Lakers, or Heat. If that’s not the case, I would be stunned.