Rumors of Kyrie Irving’s interest in joining the Brooklyn Nets this summer have been spreading like wildfire. Irving, who appears quite worn out with trying to work with the youth movement in Boston, is doing everything short of reaching for Brooklyn’s pen.
With this appearing to be a logical destination for both parties, and the media playing a part in showing this, it looks like the move will happen once free agency opens. With this move, Irving would slot in as the de facto starting point guard.
That leaves D’Angelo Russell, who revitalized his career after a failed beginning with the Los Angeles Lakers, appearing to be on the outside looking in. With his contract also coming to an end, the former Ohio State Buckeye could be on the way out if Irving comes to town. If that is ultimately the case, it would have everything to do with their reluctance to feed him a hefty contract, and nothing to do with positional fit.
However, they could both call Barclays Center their home next season and beyond. The way that happens obviously starts with the Nets giving both of them significant financial commitment, including a max contract for Irving and a significant sum for Russell that may or may not be under the max.
The aforementioned issue of positional fit between Irving and Russell appears like oil and water on the surface but it is actually quite seamless in reality. Uncle Drew operates best with the rock in his hands, carving his way through hapless defenders like Iverson used to. Russell’s game is best off the ball, as a two-guard, as he was in college, and he could thrive with Irving drawing extra coverage.
In Los Angeles, Russell was holding the ball and forced to create offensively, an area where he is not as good as he can be. He flamed out without help from any sort of a supporting cast, and was labeled a bust when Magic Johnson shipped him to Brooklyn in a salary dump deal. He became an all-star with the Nets when he wasn’t forced to be the creative mind of his team’s offense, dishing out just 3.6 assists per game.
Brooklyn made a very under the radar trade that will afford them the possibility of having another superstar next to Irving or Russell. They sent Allen Crabbe and his bulky contract to the Atlanta Hawks in return for Taurean Prince, and draft picks were also involved on both sides. The deal leaves Brooklyn with $46 million to play with this summer, which is good for two max deals.
With that financial flexibility, Irving and Russell could conceivably play together, and if Irving signs prior to Russell, the Nets can dip into their hard cap (luxury tax payments necessary) to give Russell more money than available. That would require the team’s front office, specifically GM Sean Marks, to extend a qualifying offer to Russell, making him a restricted free agent, and then make him a serious offer that resembles something close to a max deal. It may even require a max deal to keep him in town.
The bad news here is that Brooklyn would remove themselves from the Kevin Durant sweepstakes because the money just isn’t there. Only two max contracts could fit in Brooklyn, and they’ll have to pick two of Irving, Durant, Russell, and many more names that command such a paycheck.
Durant can go literally anywhere he wants to play, as he’ll surely have an offer to re-sign with the Warriors, the Clippers have been tied to him and most notably, the cross-town rival Knicks will do anything and everything under the laws of both the NBA, the United States government and nature itself to sign him.
The safer route is to keep Russell and ink Irving, with Brooklyn accepting the fact that Kevin Durant will take an amount of money that they cannot offer from another team. The core of young pieces alongside a would-be tandem of Irving and Russell is promising and would bring contention amongst the conference’s best.
The element we cannot fully gauge is how Russell and Irving will get along. It works well together when reasoned out, as we have just done here, but it is not enough to label this as an imminent success without seeing their personalities coming together and pass judgment. Without a doubt, keeping Russell and signing Irving is the right way to go for the Brooklyn Nets, who need to take a leap of faith in pairing Kyrie and Russell.