HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and Nets beat writer Kristian Winfield discuss the futures of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons and Steve Nash. The duo also discussed upcoming free agency for former Net James Harden and Bruce Brown, Nicolas Claxton, Goran Dragic, and more on the latest edition of the HoopsHype podcast.
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3:49 Kyrie Irving’s free agency
Scotto: (Before the season) there were people around the Nets who assumed Kyrie Irving would get vaccinated, but he didn’t… There were injuries to James Harden, who dealt with a hamstring injury and came into camp out of shape, and you had Kevin Durant’s injury. The Nets had few able bodies. They brought back Kyrie and scrapped the whole continuity (explanation) for not having him in the beginning.
He missed time this season due to the Covid vaccination policy. He was away from the team last season for personal reasons. He’s been injured over the course of his career. Now, Irving has a player option for this summer. After the game, he said, “I don’t really plan on going anywhere.”
When you look at a possible extension for Irving, if he opts out, he’s eligible to re-sign with the Nets for five years, $247.6 million, according to our HoopsHype salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan. If he were to leave the Nets, theoretically, he can sign a four-year, $183.6 million deal.
He talked about being a distraction for the Nets this season and how they lost a franchise player in Harden but got one back in Ben Simmons. He said they have Ben’s back, they’ll be good next season, and his (season) was also fuel for him for next season.
When you put all of that together, I don’t see any way Irving leaves the Nets. There are teams around the league that, quite frankly, would be scared to acquire him because they don’t know what they would get from him. He wants to be in Brooklyn and play for this franchise. Irving grew up a Nets fan. The writing is on the wall. He and Durant came here together, and they want to continue that going forward.
From my standpoint, I think he’s coming back. I’m curious if it ends up being a full max deal and if he aligns it to the same amount of years as Durant.
Winfield: At the end of the day, what really factors into the entire picture is Durant’s word. Does he want to play with him? I think the answer is yes. At the end of the day, this franchise is going to do what it takes to keep Durant happy.
Honestly, I think it’s worth it. Kyrie is spectacular when he’s on the floor. On top of that, it was a crazy season. I want to see what this looks like when everyone can be on the floor through a training camp and into the regular season while building chemistry.
9:20 James Harden’s Nets tenure and free agency
Scotto: From people I’ve talked to within the Nets organization, several members felt Harden came into camp out of shape and quit on the team as the season went on. Harden particularly distanced himself from the team, and he visibly showed his disinterest by a lackadaisical defensive effort against the Sacramento Kings on February 2nd. Privately, there was some concern over having to pay Harden a max contract given what the back end of that could look like and Harden earning around $60 million. But, if the Nets were going to be championship contenders and be in a position to win one, they’d make the money work.
Harden effort thread because I watched the film back and, my god, it's pathetic.
Clip 1: just blatantly not caring. pic.twitter.com/NbCccj2Ntt
— Erik Slater (@erikslaterNR) February 3, 2022
Durant was asked how he felt about the Big Three (with Irving and Harden). He said, “No regrets. Sh*t happens. No crying over spilled milk.”
I don’t know if this was whole milk, one percent, two percent, but this milk was a pretty big deal. Coming into the season, they thought the Big Three were going to all sign extensions, and they didn’t. Durant was the only one that did. Something happened there behind the scenes. Sean Marks is very tight-lipped about a lot of things, in particular injuries, but there was cautious optimism put out there that they’d sign the extensions, and it didn’t happen.
Winfield: I think he forced his way out too soon to a situation that directly needs him to score more. Joel Embiid said they need James to be more aggressive hunting his shot. If he was in Brooklyn, he wouldn’t necessarily need to be aggressive all the time because he’s got Durant on one side and Irving on the other. At the time when he forced his way out, he had a part-time Kyrie, and Durant went down with that injury.
Scotto: When Harden came to the Nets and couldn’t get to Daryl Morey at the time, the Nets had Mike D’Antoni, one of his guys. Harden didn’t have a problem with him there last season. D’Antoni leaves, then there’s friction. Then, he goes to Philadelphia with Morey. Find you a significant other who supports you as much as Morey has supported Harden over his career. That’s true love.
20:15 Ben Simmons’ future
Scotto: Simmons is younger than Harden. The Nets thought by acquiring Simmons, they’d extend their championship window a little bit, and he’d help defensively, which they sorely need. In getting Seth Curry, they knew Joe Harris had a decent chance to be out for the rest of the season. Going into the offseason, Curry is insurance if they want to move Harris. Andre Drummond was there to provide rebounding.
A source close to Simmons told me he’s going through it right now mentally, but Ben will be back next season. The source I spoke to was very confident in that. Another source I spoke to said the Nets have been supportive at every turn, and it’s different comparatively than when Ben was in Philadelphia.
The Nets envision Simmons guarding the other team’s best player at any position, one through five. On offense, he’ll have the ball in transition off rebounds. He’ll initiate the offense at times as a point guard. He could also fill the Bruce Brown role on offense where he can attack as a slasher with a floater from inside the foul line and, maybe, a corner three-pointer on a rare occasion.
Winfield: I remember how he impacted the playoff series against the Nets. He was the best player on the floor by far behind Embiid. That goes to show you what impact he can have on the game. Is that the same version we’ll get? It’s another wild card like Kyrie in that you don’t know what you’re going to get. How many different variables can you have?
I spoke to Steve Nash about Simmons on the side. The way Draymond (Green) plays is in many ways, how you can compare that to the type of impact Simmons can have. He’s far more athletic than Draymond. You’re going to have Durant on one side and Irving on the other with a shooter and a rim-roller. If they’re playing small ball, you can have Ben at the five. I think he makes them so much more versatile.
Is his back going to be an issue? If not, if you can keep him healthy on the floor and healthy with his head, I think it’s a trade the Nets win, considering this version of Harden where he’s clearly not who he was in Houston. I’m not sure if he’s (Harden) going to get back to that point.
Scotto: I think that (Harden) ship has sailed like the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria back in the day (laughs).
27:25 Steve Nash’s future
Scotto: Nash said he wants to come back. Two of his star players spoke after the game. Kevin Durant vouched for Nash postgame. He almost said exactly what he said on April 8th.
Kevin Durant on Steve Nash’s Nets coaching tenure: “I think he’s done a great job. The last two years he’s been dealt a wild hand. Injuries. Trades. Disgruntled players. Guys in and out of the lineup. Stuff that he can’t control. I felt like he’s handled it as best he could.” pic.twitter.com/C95iQaCcuI
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) April 9, 2022
When Kyrie Irving said he planned to re-sign with the Nets, he said, “When I say I’m here with Kevin, I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe (Tsai) and Sean (Marks).” He conveniently left out Nash. He said before the year, it’s a collaborative effort about having a head coach.
This season, Ime Udoka, their defensive coordinator, left. Nash’s former assistant swept him in the playoffs. Mike D’Antoni left. The offense differs a little bit, and things with James Harden changed. Durant has publicly backed him, and he wanted him from their time together with the Warriors. Nash was never brought here to be the Xs and Os guy. He was brought here to manage superstar personalities as a guy that was a great point guard, dealt with pressure, was an NBA Top 75 guy, and to deal with the media.
Winfield: I think if it spirals out of control (next season), maybe there’s a quick hook. If he gets off to a start to a season like David Blatt, where it looked good on paper, but something was going on behind the scenes, or if it’s spiraling out of control in the win and loss column from the jump, maybe then you see the Nets make a move.
With Kyrie, remember when he was asked in the locker room when they were open about roster moves the Nets could make to improve the roster? He started naming certain guys, and the one guy he left out of the core was Joe Harris? Look at the future since, and Joe is the guy that’s stayed. I don’t think Kyrie actually omitted Steve on purpose. I think it was just a slip.
When you look at Steve and what’s happened this year, it would be really unfair to judge Steve without considering everything that happened this season with the Nets roster. Kyrie being in and out of the lineup with the vaccine mandate, Kevin going out for a month and a half, Harden asking out, getting back a player (Simmons) who’s not even on the floor, and Covid with 13 guys in the health and safety protocols at one point.
I don’t think you fire him, at least right now.
39:00 Joe Harris Injury Update
Scotto: I caught up with Joe Harris after the game as he was leaving the arena with a boot and crutches. He’s feeling in good spirits and attacking his rehab one day at a time. He’s on track to return for the start of next season.
Harris’ name came up in trade talks. After acquiring Seth Curry in the James Harden trade, the Nets kept tabs on several athletic wing defenders, including Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith before he signed his extension and Utah Jazz swingman Royce O’Neale. Harris came up in brief trade talks, which I’d define more as kicking the tires and weren’t in-depth, but they spoke with the Celtics about Marcus Smart before Boston traded away Dennis Schroeder and made Smart their full-time point guard earlier in the season. The Nets have always been fond of Smart. Boston, at the time, was kicking around the idea of whether they’d be better adding a shooter. Smart’s name always comes up in trade talks since he’s one of their best players.
I think Harris is a guy the Nets could move if they want to upgrade the team. I don’t know if they’ll view him and Curry as duplicates and want to have more of that shooting or try and move one of those two players to get that athletic wing defender, which they desperately need.
43:40 Nets Roster Decisions and Free Agents
Scotto: There was this (narrative) that the Nets let Jeff Green go, and they went for Patty Mills instead. At the time, the Nets wanted to give Green the minimum, which wasn’t going to fly. Green went to Denver and got a similar deal that he had with the Nets.
Mills has a player option. I don’t know what he’s going to do there. He’s pretty appropriately valued, in my opinion.
Winfield: I think he (Mills) stays, especially if Ben Simmons is staying. Everything Patty has said of Ben has been in support of him.
Scotto: Bruce Brown’s value is going to be interesting. Does he get more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and go above $10 million?
Winfield: It’s tough. In my mind, I’m considering you’re probably going to have to pay Nicolas Claxton. If you’re paying him and you have Simmons, you can play Simmons and Brown on the floor at the same time, but I wouldn’t look to see many of those minutes because I’d want to have as many shooters around the floor. I know Brown has had a breakout season from three-point range, but part of me still wants to see it under duress. We saw him shoot a lot of wide-open threes because defenders didn’t respect his shot.
He’s played such a hybrid role… We’ve seen him thrive setting screens and rolling to the rim and making decisions out of that short roll. That’s a pretty unique need for a guy at his size. I’m just wondering how many teams would really want to weave that into their game plans… If I had to bet, I think he’s gone, and someone gives him a lot of money.
Scotto: Nicolas Claxton was mentioned in trade talks close to the deadline when the Nets were targeting wing help (Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale, as noted above). There was a belief the Nets could’ve gotten a first-round pick as part of a trade package for Claxton from Toronto at the deadline, but the Raptors went with Thaddeus Young instead. I’m told that the first-round pick would’ve potentially been dangled as part of a trade package for Finney-Smith before he signed his extension. I’m not sure who the other player would’ve been because the Nets would’ve had to put more than a pick for Finney-Smith, given how much Dallas values him.
Claxton is a guy they’re really going to have to consider keeping. Claxton will be restricted, which helps them. Mitchell Robinson is going to be unrestricted. I touched on HoopsHype that he’s valued at around $12-13 million for executives. Could he hit $15 million? Maybe. Claxton and Mo Bamba will be restricted. The importance of keeping Claxton is magnified because Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are all unrestricted free agents.
Winfield: I think the Nets make Claxton their center of the future. I think Blake and LaMarcus are gone. I think Andre is going to get money elsewhere because he played well in a short spurt for the Nets before he got to the playoffs. I think teams will remember how dominant of a rebounder he was.
Scotto: Goran Dragic said he loves basketball, and he still wants to play another two or three years. Steve Nash is his guy. You’d think the Nets would have dibs on him. As I previously reported on HoopsHype, if Nash didn’t heavily recruit Dragic to the Nets, he was going to pick between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kessler Edwards has a team option. I think the team brings back Edwards. They like him, and they need young and cheap guys to fill out the roster. I think he stays as a 3-and-D guy.