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Exploring possible trade destinations for Nets' Kyrie Irving

Exploring possible trade destinations for Nets' Kyrie Irving

On January 15, after a 112-102 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving was asked about Kevin Durant's absence. More specifically, he was asked how the circumstances (and the locker room) differ from last year. This is what he had to say.

There was a hint of irony to the response in light of his absence for large portions of last season due to New York's vaccine mandate, as well as the suspension he served this season due to sharing antisemitic content. Secondarily, it felt like a clear shot at former Nets guard James Harden, who ultimately requested a trade before last year's deadline. 

On January 15, Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes relayed word from Irving's agent, expressing their desire to reach an agreement on a long-term extension in Brooklyn. From the piece:

"Around Kyrie and staying with the Nets? I have reached out to the Nets regarding this," his agent Shetellia Irving told Bleacher Report. "We have had no significant conversations to date. The desire is to make Brooklyn home, with the right type of extension, which means the ball is in the Nets' court to communicate now if their desire is the same."

It would appear the desire isn't mutual. With no extension agreed to, Irving has reportedly requested a trade from the Nets ahead of the February 9 trade deadline.

Zooming out, that's three separate trade requests the Nets have received from stars over the past calendar year. And before digging into potential destinations from Irving, it's worth taking the step back to acknowledge how wild things have been in Brooklyn during the 7/11 Era. 

(Also, the clock is going to start back ticking on Durant, no? Irving requesting the trade now is unfortunate timing. Depending on what they could get back, this deal could take the Nets out of the contention conversation through absolutely no fault of Durant's. Considering Irving's role in Durant's trade request in the summer — he wants, or wanted, his guy there with him long-term — it would be understandable if he got antsy again.)

Irving has been tremendous on the court this season, averaging 27.1 points (career-high 56.9% on 2s, 37.4% on 3s), 5.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds. His blend of ball-handling, pull-up shooting and finishing is almost unrivaled in the league — and in league history. And to Irving's credit, his buy-in on the defensive end is as consistently high as it's ever been in his career.

Irving's availability and contract status — he'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer — will complicate his trade value. The receiving team, if he's moved, will have to be confident in retaining Irving long term. And from there, they'd have to be confident that Irving, who hasn't appeared in 70 games since the 2016-17 season, will be consistently available. His injury history and off-the-court controversies in back-to-back seasons make that a tough bet on the surface.

Of course, the bet being tough — and likely untenable for some franchises — doesn't mean it won't be made at all. There will be teams that check in on Irving and push their chips to the middle of the table.

We have to start the conversation with the Los Angeles Lakers. They were linked to Irving in the summer, when it felt like both Durant and Irving could be moved. There's an obvious link between Irving and LeBron James. The two played in Cleveland together for three years, winning a title in 2016. LeBron also stood up for Irving during his suspension earlier this season.

We don't have to spend much time here. The Lakers would build a package headlined by Russell Westbrook and one or both of their future first-round picks (2027, 2029) for Irving. That doesn't mean the Nets would get Westbrook; three-team frameworks would likely be discussed, and it's worth noting that Haynes reported earlier on Friday that the Lakers and Utah Jazz re-engaged in talks surrounding Westbrook.

Beyond the Lakers, there are a few teams that come to mind that make on-court — and I stress on-court — sense for the star guard.

Priority number one for the Dallas Mavericks, for example, is finding a legitimate co-star to pair with Luka Doncic. He's clearly good enough to handle a gargantuan offensive load; he leads the NBA in points (second in scoring average, 33.4) and ranks fifth in assists (8.2). Only the Cavs play at a slower pace than the Mavericks this season, mostly due to Doncic's surgical cadence in the half-court. 

Spencer Dinwiddie and Christian Wood (when healthy) have filled in well as secondary scorers. Dinwiddie is averaging nearly 18 points a game while bombing away from three (40.3% on a career-high 6.4 attempts). Wood's inside-out dynamic has helped him become the second half of the NBA's most prolific pick-and-roll duo, per Second Spectrum tracking.

Neither of them garner the same defensive attention that Irving does, nor can they take over games in the way that Irving can. A framework built around former-Net Dinwiddie and currently-in-the-rumor-mill Dorian Finney-Smith could intrigue the Nets.

The Miami Heat were reportedly on Irving's summer list of teams he'd be okay getting signed-and-traded to, per ESPN's Adrain Wojnarowski. A certified third star alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo could lift their ceiling, especially one as dynamic offensively as Irving. As of writing, the Heat rank 25th in overall offensive rating, excluding garbage time, and 22nd in half-court offense.

While Tyler Herro has taken steps as a creator and first-time starter — 20.3 points (49.9% on 2s, 37.3% on 3s) and a career-high 4.4 assists is nothing to sneeze at — his ability to generate traction downhill and deal with in-your-jersey defenders on an island pale in comparison to Irving. Among teams that may show interest in Irving, Herro may be the best young piece that could be offered in a deal — though his inclusion would be complicated due to the "poison pill" element of his current contract status.

Because Herro's rookie extension (4/120) hasn't kicked in yet, the Heat and Nets would be dealing with different cap numbers in a potential trade. For the Heat, they'd be sending out Herro's current-year salary ($5.7 million). The Nets (or a third team receiving Herro) would be accounting for $25.1 million — the average of Herro's total salary owed.

Without Herro, Miami would likely try to use Kyle Lowry as the headliner to a package. With somewhat limited pick ammo and young prospects -- how much would Nikola Jovic appeal to this version of Brooklyn? -- the Heat feel more like a long shot compared to Los Angeles and Dallas.

STRAY THOUGHTS

  • The Suns and Nets were linked during the Durant Sweepstakes, but I wonder if they'd check in on Irving. This would be a deal centered around Chris Paul, which begs the question: how much more would Brooklyn want? Would a Paul + Cam Johnson package appeal to both parties, in light of Phoenix's need for half-court scoring?
  • The Clippers will always — or at least should — be mentioned in these kind of conversations. Their roster is littered with quality players on mid-level salaries, making them an appealing keep-us-competitive option for the Nets.
  • I'm sure the Knicks are content with Jalen Brunson, but hey. Just ... hey, I'm sure they'll think about it. Even if the answer is ultimately, "Nah, we're good", I find it hard to believe they wouldn't think about it.
  • Normally there's a "won't happen, but these pieces make sense" team to choose from in trade discussions like this, but I'm struggling with this one. Would the closest be something surrounding an Irving-Zach LaVine swap? Like, sure?
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