Kyrie Irving: How his preferred teams can acquire him

Kyrie Irving: How his preferred teams can acquire him

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Kyrie Irving: How his preferred teams can acquire him

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Is it all over for the Nets? Maybe not, but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant may be prepared for it to be.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Irving has a list of teams he’s interested in being traded to should he decide to leave Brooklyn. Shams Charania reported that Durant is monitoring the Nets situation should Irving leave, echoing similar reporting by Woj earlier this week. It appears Irving’s constant unavailability has finally caught up to Brooklyn’s front office as they are reportedly unwilling to give Irving maximum years on a new deal.

If Irving decides to leave, it will be interesting to see if he is able to get to a team he prefers while getting paid maximum money. Most of these teams would require Brooklyn’s cooperation to acquire him in an opt-in-and-trade, further complicating a move for him. If Irving leaves, Durant could very well be next, and the return for him could jump-start a rebuild for the Nets.

How can these teams land Irving?

Kyrie Irving defending LeBron James

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Before anything drastic happens, Irving must first make a decision on his $36.5 million player option by June 29. If he opts in, he can immediately get traded, even before the start of free agency. If he declines it, he can either re-sign with the Nets, sign with another team, or join another team via a sign-and-trade.

The issue with opting out is that with the exception of the Knicks and maybe the Heat, it is very unlikely Irving can get to any of his preferred teams while being properly paid.

The Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, and 76ers are already projected to be over the luxury tax, and a sign-and-trade for Irving would be complicated to execute since it would be difficult for them to construct the rest of the roster afterward. Any team that acquires a free agent via sign-and-trade gets hard-capped, and acquiring Irving would realistically put these teams way over the hard cap.

The Knicks are looking to shed payroll to generate enough cap space to make Jalen Brunson an offer, but they would need to generate a lot more to get to Irving’s maximum projected at $42.7 million. A sign-and-trade would be more realistic for the Knicks to acquire Irving, which would require sending back $34 million to the Nets. A combination of Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel can get to the matching salaries.

There is a pathway for Miami to be able to acquire Irving in a sign-and-trade if needed while filling out the roster under the hard cap. A package of Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, and one minimum contract matches for Irving’s $42.7 million while leaving them just over $22 million below the hard cap with seven roster spots. That’s enough space to re-sign PJ Tucker to the maximum $8.4 million starting salary Miami is allowed to give him while filling up the rest of the roster with minimum contracts. Including Duncan Robinson, or acquiring Irving through an opt-in-and-trade, would give Miami more payroll flexibility, such as having access to the mid-level exception.

If Irving opts in and is traded during free agency, his 15 percent trade bonus would be worth $5.5 million and would increase his $36.9 salary to $42.4 million. If he opts in and is traded before free agency, that $5.5 million bonus would be distributed evenly to his 2021-22 and 2022-23 salaries. That would raise his salary next season to $39.7 million. To simplify things, teams will have to send out at least $30.4 million to match salaries for Irving if he’s traded before free agency, and $33.9 million if traded during.

The Lakers’ main path to Irving would be trading Russell Westbrook. Their biggest disadvantage is their lack of assets, which is limited to first-round picks in 2027 and 2029. It’s possible one of them may have to be rerouted to a third team to take on Westbrook assuming Brooklyn has no interest in him.

The Clippers are limited to trading a first-round pick in 2028 or 2029 but they have more role players and young players to offer. A combination of Marcus Morris, Norman Powell, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, and Reggie Jackson can get there. They can also offer Terence Mann or Brandon Boston Jr. to add more value to their package.

The Mavericks have many different contracts they can use to get to the $30-34 million required to match for Irving, such as a combination of Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Davis Bertans, and Dwight Powell. One of the more creative pathways they can do to get there is a sign-and-trade that sends Brunson to Brooklyn or a third team, though Base Year Compensation would complicate that scenario. Dallas can offer up to three future first-round picks in 2025 (first available draft language), 2027, and 2029 to strengthen their offer.

The Sixers being on Irving’s list is perplexing considering the events that led to James Harden asking out of Brooklyn. Tobias Harris would have to go back to match salaries, but lack any assets other than Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle after giving the Nets their remaining tradeable first-round picks for Harden.

It’s hard to take this list too seriously considering the amount of hoops needed to jump through to get Irving to any of these teams. This especially rings true when considering that Irving’s alternative to getting to one of these teams would be by accepting the mid-level exception. That would mean a pay cut that could reach as much as $30 million, and he wouldn’t have sufficient rights to re-sign for the maximum the following offseason.

Who has the leverage? And what's at stake?

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images).

In the short term, it appears the Nets hold the cards. The main thing the Nets can ride on is the fact that there are no competitive teams expected to generate cap space to sign Irving outright. None of the teams listed as Irving’s preferences can pay him close to a maximum contract during the offseason. Getting to any of these teams would require Brooklyn’s assistance in a trade, which they may not be inclined to help with especially if Irving opts in and is under contract for another year.

If Irving opts out, he could be putting himself in a position for a significant salary decrease in the strong scenario that there’s no other maximum offer available. The safer choice would be to opt in, especially since he could avoid free agency in 2023 by extending his current deal at any point during next season. His maximum extension amount is projected at four years, $196.2 million. If traded, he would be limited for six months to a two-year extension worth $78.6 million.

But even if the Nets are betting on Irving opting in, they may only be buying themselves a little bit of time. He has already shown that he is undeterred at losing millions of dollars by not playing when he got fined for every home game he was unqualified to play for due to New York’s vaccine requirement. If he really wants a trade, they may need to grant him one or risk having him further unavailable.

If Irving is longer in the picture and Durant asks for a trade, they could be entering an immediate rebuild. Their objective then could be acquiring more than enough draft equity and young players to make up for the lost assets they gave up for Harden. Brooklyn already sent Houston the 17th overall pick (Tari Eason) in this year’s draft, and owe them unprotected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026. They also owe Houston pick swaps in 2023, 2025, and 2027.

The Nets already made up some ground by acquiring Ben Simmons and two first-round picks from the Sixers. One pick is in 2023 and the other is in 2027 pick that could be deferred to 2028. The value of them is still to be determined, but Simmons could recover a lot of trade value if he gets healthy and picks up where he left off playing at an All-Star level. Simmons is also young enough to see out a Nets rebuild and be apart of their next competitive team.

Durant at age 34 was still getting consideration for best player in the league, which is not a statement we thought we’d be saying three years ago following his Achilles injury. Most playoff teams should be interested in acquiring him and he should have enough value to command all the available future first-round picks and talented young players a team could offer.

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