The first real heartbeat to any free agency rumor began pumping week, as ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Brooklyn Nets are very serious about pursuing Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving in free agency:
Kyrie Irving is serious about the Nets — and the Nets are serious about beating the Knicks — and rest of league — to the biggest free agents in the marketplace, per league sources.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 6, 2019
Consequently, the Nets traded their first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft along with Allen Crabbe in a salary dump move that opens up a second max cap slot and also gives them a promising wingman in Taurean Prince. As such, Brooklyn is in a fantastic position to make a run at two All-Star players in free agency and ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference.
But signing Kyrie would present some contradictions. To begin with, current Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell is also a free agent this year, and is coming off of the best season of his career, where he was named an All-Star and averaged over 21 points and seven assists. The Nets have watched Russell to develop into a truly elite point guard, would they be willing to exchange Russell for Irving?
Secondly, Irving does not seem capable of being the leader of a team, much to his own personal chagrin. If the Nets fail to sign another star player such as a Kevin Durant in free agency, would they actually be worse off in signing Kyrie?
Let’s dive into those questions.
Here are three reasons that the Brooklyn Nets should steer clear of Kyrie Irving in free agency.
3. D’Angelo Russell
The Nets acquired Russell in a move that sent Brook Lopez and the rights to the recently-drafted Kyle Kuzma to the Los Angeles Lakers. That deal is looking like a steal, but would the Nets really have capitalized on Russell’s potential after just two years and one playoff appearance?
If they sign Kyrie, it means that they are willing to move on from Russell. And that would be a tremendous mistake.
Russell not only became an All-Star in his fourth year in the league, but he also posted career highs in points, assists, steals, three-point percentage and Effective Field Goal percentage. And given that he played barely 30 minutes per game, he has that much more potential as he continues to get more and more run as the point guard of the future.
For example, consider Kyrie’s per-36 line of 26.0 points, 7.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Compare that to Russell’s line of 25.2 points, 8.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Those are pretty darn close.
Then you have to factor in Russell being nearly four full years younger than Irving. Remember that Russell is still just 23 years old, and given how well he performed last season, there is no telling how high his ceiling is if the Nets surround him with assets and make that commitment to him from an organizational standpoint.
Sure, Brooklyn might want to win a championship next year. And in that regard, perhaps Irving is the better option in terms of being a more efficient scorer and a better defender who might be able to sway another big free agent.
But the Nets are an equally attractive team with Russell at the helm, and he is the far better long-term option.
2. Boston 2.0
Why were the Nets so successful this past season? They saw massive improvements from young stars like Russell, Jarrett Allen and (before he got injured) Caris LeVert while also watching Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris develop into extremely productive bench options. But holistically, this team is built around youth.
Another team that had been built on young talent? The Boston Celtics.
Now, this is not to say that the two rosters are very similar. Guys like Dinwiddie and LeVert have shown the capacity to be offensive playmakers as well as scorers. They do not need to be ball-dominant in order to be effective, which appears to be the case for Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward in Boston.
Still, Kyrie repeatedly voiced his frustrations with trying to grow alongside the youngsters on the Celtics, even making that midseason comment about feeling the need to apologize to LeBron James for not understanding how hard it is to lead a team.
Last season, the Nets were the ninth-youngest team in the NBA, and that was with guys like DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley and Ed Davis on the roster (there is a good chance none of those three are back next year).
Boston was supposed to be the most talented team in the Eastern Conference this season, but the internal drama and lack of chemistry prevented them from taking the next step.
If the Nets sign Kyrie, they risk stagnating the growth of their younger players while hardly making any gains on the margin.
1. Is Kyrie really what they need?
Of course, if the Nets are willing to let Russell walk, then Kyrie can fill that scoring void in the backcourt. But otherwise, do they really need another scoring guard? Both Dinwiddie and LeVert have already proven to be more than capable as scorers at the one and two guard positions.
What the Nets really need is a capable playmaker on the wing. Joe Harris can play the three if necessary– and he is one of the best shooters in the game–but he is also a defensive liability.
As previously mentioned, there is a strong chance that Jared Dudley nor DeMarre Carroll will be back next year. And even if they were, they are not comparable to the kind of wing players that will be available this summer.
From Jimmy Butler to Kawhi Leonard to Kevin Durant (who can also play the four), there are a number of playmakers that would better suit Brooklyn’s needs–by the way, all three are tremendous defenders–and serve in that leadership role.
And yes, the Nets could sign Kyrie and still make a play for one of those other guys. But should they fail to sign a sidekick for Irving, they will have metaphorically struck out while also sacrificing their future.
The smarter play would be to re-sign Russell–still a very attractive commodity in his own right–and then go after another big-name player.