Kyrie Irving’s chances of playing for the Brooklyn Nets took another hit recently when New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams said the city wouldn’t change its vaccine mandate policy during a CNN interview.
With Irving remaining inactive, rival NBA teams have called the Nets regarding his trade availability, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Following Adams’ unchanged stance on the vaccine mandate, HoopsHype spoke with seven NBA executives to gauge Irving’s value on the trade market should the Nets decide to move him.
Kyrie Irving’s trade value
Last season, Irving was the ninth player in NBA history to record a 50-40-90 shooting season. He joined Nash (four times), Larry Bird (twice), Malcolm Brogdon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, and Mark Price as the only players to achieve those statistics. It was the fifth time a player averaged 25 or more points shooting those percentages.
However, it’s the baggage that comes with Irving off the court that gives teams a strong pause when debating a trade to acquire him.
“For the most part, every front office and coaching staff is scared to death of him and doesn’t want to touch him,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype. “Honestly, it might’ve been four teams before this (his refusal to get vaccinated). He’s a guy that front offices don’t trust. Coaches don’t want to deal with him. Players like him.”
Over the past few seasons, Irving passed on playing in the NBA bubble, abruptly left the Nets for personal reasons, and refused to get the vaccine. Doing so rendered him unavailable in Brooklyn’s home games this season before the team decided he wouldn’t play or practice until he was eligible to be a full participant and get vaccinated.
For most teams, the locker room internally is a major factor in personnel decision-making. It’s clear in the eyes of many executives around the league Irving’s actions don’t reflect well on him.
“He had his own way about things,” as one of Irving’s former assistant coaches for several seasons told HoopsHype. “If he didn’t agree with the philosophy, he was going to do his own thing. In coaching, you always hope the player will at least try the coach’s way. Most coaches will see they’re trying to execute, and if it’s not working, they change it. Kyrie is like, if this isn’t going to work, I’m not going to do it.”
Several other coaches who’ve been around Irving for various seasons described him as “different” and “moody” at times. On good days, Irving would engage teammates by verbally encouraging younger players or struggling veterans in practices, and dazzle on the court when the lights shined bright. On bad days, Irving wouldn’t talk to anyone, and he’d go off the script from some defensive schemes and offensive play calls, which left some coaches scratching their heads. The issue, according to those coaches, was they didn’t know which version was entering the gym daily.
If the Nets ultimately decide to trade Irving, they won’t get back anything close to equal value for one of the league’s most talented players when he’s on the court based on conversations with the executives polled.
“He’s a max player, who people would not give up assets you’d traditionally give up,” as one NBA executive surmised. “There’s so much risk associated with him that I think most teams wouldn’t pay in a trade what you’d expect someone to pay given his skill level when he’s at his best.”
Potential trade partners
So who could potentially trade for Irving? The number of realistic takers is slim, according to the executives polled. The consensus is a team that’s a title contender or an executive who’s desperate to make a big splash would be the most likely fit.
“I would’ve said Philly legitimately made sense with the swap of Ben Simmons and Kyrie,” one of the executives told HoopsHype. “That’s a team I could’ve seen who’s going for it and needs a scoring guard. That’s literally the only one I could see.”
Three of the executives believed an Irving-for-Simmons trade could make some sense but ultimately wouldn’t happen. In theory, from a geographical perspective, it would keep Irving close to New Jersey, where he has family ties, and allow him the opportunity to play with a dominant big man, Joel Embiid, in pick-and-roll action and spread the floor more efficiently for the 76ers.
The Nets would get a defensive stopper, something the team desperately needs. However, Simmons would be a bad fit next to Kevin Durant and James Harden because he needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and there’s no scenario where Durant and Harden won’t have the ball in their hands as primary playmakers.
“I don’t think they can trade him,” one executive said bluntly. “I think they’re just stuck. I don’t think it makes sense for anybody. I’m not aware of any team that wants him.”
In another light, there’s no better place for Irving to succeed than Brooklyn, according to the executives, minus the vaccine mandate.
“Brooklyn is probably the only team in the league that can carry him in the locker room, tolerate the PR demands, and maintain fan support,” another executive told HoopsHype. “They’re one of the only teams in the league where he’s not one of their best two players. He also enticed Durant to Brooklyn, and he deserves credit for that. There’s a shared responsibility for his absence with the city’s vaccination mandate.”
Brooklyn’s title chances without Kyrie
“Teams don’t like to piss away opportunities to win,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “That’s what Brooklyn is afraid of doing right now. At least that’s the perception of their situation. Their players, coach, GM, and the owner feel it. They’re potentially pissing away an opportunity to win by hanging onto this guy for too long, but let’s see what happens. Fortunately, they have two absolute stalwarts who, even without Kyrie, could probably still win them a championship.”
Last season, that seemed plausible with Harden maintaining an MVP-caliber level. Thus far, however, Harden was shooting an underwhelming 39.9 percent through his first 11 games and averaging 18.3 points and 4.6 free throw attempts, which are his lowest outputs since the 2011-12 season.
“They’re just in the scrum,” another NBA executive told HoopsHype. “Last year, they were really good, but James isn’t playing well. Last year, James was one of the top two or three players in all of basketball. Kyrie is really good, but he was their third-best player. They need James back to be the clear-cut title favorite. I think it’s more about James than Kyrie.”
Coming into the season, Brooklyn was considered the frontrunner in the East with a healthy trio. However, Philadelphia has been atop the East for most of the season without Simmons. The Bucks remain a formidable threat with its core and Giannis Antetokounmpo back. The Miami Heat have lived up to expectations after adding Kyle Lowry this offseason, and the Chicago Bulls have shown they’re for real.
While a healthy Durant and Harden can be the best duo in the league on a nightly basis, it’s a lot to ask of a 33-year-old who’s already had a major foot and Achilles injury and a 32-year-old who hasn’t looked the same since getting injured in the playoffs last season. The Nets rotated two stars last season when all three were available, and they don’t have that luxury anymore. If Irving gets the vaccine, Brooklyn would re-emerge as the title favorites instantly on paper. If he doesn’t, a prime year of Durant and Harden was wasted without the fullest potential to win a title.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto