Kyrie Irving situation: His trade market and Nets’ options

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When Kyrie Irving plays, he is arguably a Top 15 player who can occasionally raise his ceiling to that of a Top 10 player. Having to preface that sentence with “When Irving plays” is the issue as his availability has waned recently. Last season, Irving missed two stretches of multiple games that weren’t injury-related. This season he intended on becoming a part-time player for the Nets due to New York state’s vaccination requirement for professional sports home games despite the $17 million-plus he would lose.

The Nets front office pumped the brakes on that and made an unprecedented statement explaining that they will not permit Irving to play on a part-time basis. They do not want him back unless he’s all in, as they should demand. There remains the possibility that Irving does take the vaccine in the near future and rejoin the team. Still, one must wonder if there are people in the Nets organization tired of Irving’s absences and are thinking of moving on from him. To some, it may not be a matter of if Irving will unexpectedly miss time again, but when.

So now what?

Current market for Kyrie Irving

According to Shams Charania, rival teams believe that the Nets could be open to trading Irving. He also later added that the $186.6 million extension Brooklyn can offer him is off the table. Anthony Puccio of SportSection cited owner Joe Tsai as unhappy with Irving last season. That unhappiness could speak for others in the organization which could eventually lead the Nets to decide to move on from Irving.

If the Nets decide to move on from Irving, they should be fielding trade offers for him. His production on the court alone should warrant a package similar to what the Nets gave up to get James Harden under normal circumstances. Instead, his unavailability could make teams that would naturally be interested in Irving not make an offer at all.

But let’s say none of these red flags existed, or teams that have accepted them are willing to deal with them. Also, Irving’s trade value is undoubtedly low right now, which means teams might be able to acquire him for a lot less than initially thought. In that case, there would be many teams interested in Irving. For starters, the Philadelphia 76ers might actually consider swapping Ben Simmons for Irving, a deal that they are reportedly not interested in as of now. Irving would fit seamlessly with the Sixers and would make an excellent co-star to Joel Embiid.

It’s important to note that Irving has a trade bonus that would raise his salary to the maximum ($39,344,900) if moved in the early part of the season. That would still allow the Sixers to swap Simmons ($33 million) for Irving since teams only need to send out $31.4 million to match salaries for $39.3 million.

Zach Lowe mentioned the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs as other teams that could make some sense. For the Heat, if the Kyle Lowry experiment doesn’t work out, a swap of him and Irving could be discussed. Lowe cites Irving’s previous interest in the Spurs when he requested a trade from Cleveland in 2017, but their competitive situation has changed since then. San Antonio could still put together an interesting package including a young point guard like Dejounte Murray or Derrick White, and veterans like Thaddeus Young and Doug McDermott.

A Kyrie Irving for D’Angelo Russell swap could make some sense due to Brooklyn’s familiarity with Russell. Irving could propel the Timberwolves back into the playoffs, but he may be the last player Karl-Anthony Towns would like to play with.

A package centered around Caris LeVert is another familiar face the Nets could look at. Indiana needs a perennial All-Star like Irving to help get them closer to the East’s best teams.

Even if the Nets are set on trading Irving and salvaging some value for him, they are more likely to get better offers later in the year when more players become available for trade and other team circumstances change.

Post-December trade market

On December 15, most 2021 free agents will become trade-eligible, and all of them will become trade-eligible on January 15. A lot can change by then from Irving’s vaccination status to interested teams’ needs on the court.

The Knicks will be able to trade most of their roster in December and could make a very enticing offer with their role players. Of course, division factors and sharing the same vaccination mandate as the Nets eliminates them as a suitor. This also would eliminate the Clippers who can offer a combination of role players, unless they’re okay with Irving on a part-time basis.

Some other teams who will be able to trade their recently-signed guards by then include Chicago and Utah. The Bulls can offer a package centered around Lonzo Ball and the Jazz could offer one around Mike Conley. It’s also worth mentioning New Orleans, who reportedly pursued veteran All-Star point guards this offseason like Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul. They can offer a package including a combination of Devonte Graham, Jonas Valanciunas, Josh Hart, and several young players and picks.

Still, it seems unlikely Irving will want to play for any team other than Brooklyn considering it was his preferred destination. At the same time, it’s safe to say that Irving will need to rehabilitate his value before another team takes a chance on him with the money he’s making.

Can the Nets do anything else?

Irving’s unwillingness to play for another team could even prompt him to retire if traded, according to Marc Stein. However, Irving himself said he has no plans to do so, which means he and the Nets are stuck in limbo in the meantime. There is no breach of contract since Irving is only losing the money for home games he’s ineligible for. As long he is comfortable with that, the Nets will have no choice but to either trade him, waive him, or wait this out.

Realistically, if Irving is to be traded this year, it will most likely be a pure salary dump to get off the rest of his money. As Bobby Marks explains, getting off him would save the Nets $145 million this year and put them below the luxury tax. The only team that could facilitate such a deal right now are the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have the ability to open up between $33-to-40 million in cap space. Such a deal could cost the Nets young players like Cam Thomas, Nicolas Claxton, and Day’Ron Sharpe, as well as a future first-round pick (the only one they can trade right now is their 2028 one).

Outright waiving him does not make sense, at least not now. If Irving were to follow through and not play the entire season, then waiving him can be revisited next offseason. For now, the Nets will probably give Irving some more time to process their decision to shut him away from the team and hope he rejoins at some point. If enough time passes during the season and he still holds out, that may push the Nets to pursue an avenue to part ways with him.

But again, things can change, and there remains the possibility that Irving will receive the vaccine and rejoin the Nets. It’s possible that he changes his mind soon now that he has drawn attention to his reasoning.

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