According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Brooklyn Nets’ reluctance to commit a long-term, fully-guaranteed, maximum-salary contract to a guy who got famous for not showing up to work last year is tearing their franchise apart and could result in the departure of both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Clippers, among other teams, are on Irving’s list of preferred trade destinations. No such list for Kevin Durant has been reported.
As Woj notes, the Clippers would need to work on a trade with Brooklyn in order to get Irving. However, unlike some other teams on the list, a sign-and-trade is not a viable option for LAC. When a team acquires a signed-and-traded player, they have to operate within a hard salary cap imposed by the NBA for that season–a number the Clippers are already far, far beyond. Dropping not only below the hard cap, but far enough below to then fit in Irving’s maximum salary, is not impossible but highly unlikely and would require cooperation from a number of teams to help the Clippers shed all that salary.
If the Clippers were to acquire Irving, it is far more likely that it would be in an “opt-in-and-trade,” like the deal that sent Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets years ago. If Irving picks up his player option for next season and is traded on his existing contract, the Clippers do not face the same financial restrictions that a sign-and-trade would place upon them. All they would have to do is meet the NBA’s normal threshold for salary matching in a trade, which would be easily achievable with the contracts of existing role players who are already rumored to be on the trading block, like Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris. From there, it’s just a matter of negotiating value–a tricky proposition for a Brooklyn Nets team without much leverage.
As Wojnarowski notes, the list that the Clippers landed on is one of Irving’s preferences, not an indication that those teams are prioritizing acquiring him. As Irving rumors began to swirl around the league earlier in the week, some national reporters, including Zach Lowe, seemed to suggest that the Clippers were not super interested in the pursuit. If they were interested, it would be hard to blame them. Irving is one of the most talented guards in the league, a high-skilled offensive monster with a championship ring and multiple All-NBA appearances on his trophy shelf. It’s undeniable even to the most staunchly anti-Kyrie observers that he would be the Clippers’ third-best player by a country mile and offer them a significant talent upgrade. If Irving, George, and Leonard can stay on the court, the Clippers would become the odds-on favorites for the title next year. In a video game, the Clippers would probably win a few rings in 3-5 years of having that trio together.
But these are real, complicated people, not video game character. Irving is notoriously unreliable and, in the last year has operated as an organizational sabateur. His refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 both sabotaged his team’s season and spread misinformation that contributed to worsening the most severe public health crisis in the United States of the last century. His refusal to take any accountability for the fact that his choices have negative consequences led to further disarray in the Nets organization, and ultimately to the current debacle. Not only did he make just 29 appearances last season due to not complying with COVID protocols, but his selfishness ultimately ran multiple MVP winner James Harden out of town at the trade deadline. NBA teams put up with a lot of bullshit from superstar players, because dealing with superstar bullshit is the preferable alternative to not having a superstar. It should say something that Irving, who has proven capable of being the best player on a good team and the second-best player on a championship team, would now be leaving his third team in six years on bad terms. Like I said, teams are willing to put up with a lot of bullshit to keep talent. It really says something that, for how amazing of a player he is, Kyrie’s bullshit has now stunk too much for three different high-achieving franchises.
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