Brooklyn Nets rumors: Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard still buzzing

The newest Brooklyn Nets rumors are linked to two of the biggest potential names in the 2019 free-agency bonanza, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard.

A new round of Brooklyn Nets rumors circulating once again tie the club to two of the biggest potential prizes on next summer’s free-agent market — Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors (yeah, that still seems strange) wing Kawhi Leonard.

Separate reports this week centered on speculation about the two All-Stars and their futures after the 2018-19 season.

NBA.com’s David Aldridge addressed the still complicated situation around Leonard, who was traded July 18 along with Danny Green from the San Antonio Spurs to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick.

Aldridge, in his weekly mailbag column, took on a question about the links between Leonard and the Nets specifically whether the ties many in the Brooklyn organization — including general manager Sean Marks — have to the Spurs will actually hurt the Nets’ cause with the former Finals MVP.

I don’t think so. Marks is is own man and his staff has its own tale to tell Leonard and his representatives. The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, had a good shot at Leonard in part because of Leonard’s relationship with Sixers coach Brett Brown — a relationship that was formed while Brown was an assistant in San Antonio.

Unless Marks rubbed Leonard the wrong way somehow in the 210, and there’s absolutely no evidence I know of indicating that, I think Leonard will give the Nets a fair hearing next July.

Leonard will make $20.1 million this season in the fourth year of the five-year, $94 million contract he signed with the Spurs in July 2015, while he holds a $21.3 million player option for 2019-20 that he is expected to decline in order to enter the free agency foray next summer.

It was a turbulent year for Leonard last season, as he was limited to nine games with a quadriceps injury that some around San Antonio were indicating wasn’t as severe as Leonard’s camp was making it out to be.

A two-time All-Star with the Spurs, Leonard’s reputation prior to last season was one of a quiet, hard-working type who had emerged as a superstar while growing up in the shadows cast by Spurs greats Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Despite little public comment from Leonard, the events of the last seven or eight months have damaged that reputation and a big — and healthy — season in Toronto would do wonders to eliminate doubts as Leonard may opt to head onto the open market.

On the Kyrie Irving front, Marc Stein of the New York Times speculated Tuesday in his email newsletter that the only thing clear about the intentions of the Boston All-Star is that nothing is clear.

While there has been rampant speculation Irving is eyeing a move to New York, Stein says there are “credible rumblings” that the Nets plan to pursue Irving should he hit the market next July.

Irving is on the same financial terms as Leonard — a $20.1 million salary for this season and a $21.3 million player option for 2019-20.

While Leonard got his deal as a restricted free agent in 2015, irving got the same deal — both were first-round picks in 2011 — as a rookie-scale extension from the Cleveland Cavaliers in July 2014.

Irving was traded to the Celtics last August, with Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick and Miami’s 2020 second-round pick going back to the Cavaliers.

Interestingly, Zizic is the only one of the three players traded that is still on Cleveland’s roster. Crowder was traded to the Utah Jazz and Thomas was shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of the Cavaliers’ extreme team makeover at the trade deadline in February.

It’s great fun as a fan to see the Nets linked to the top-tier of potential free agents, particularly after the catastrophic wake of Billy King’s 2013 gambit that stripped the club of its first-round picks in four of the last five seasons while simultaneously putting the franchise in salary cap armegeddon.

Expect Marks to be aggressive next summer, particularly early in free agency when all of the fruit is still on the tree. Ultimately, much of what Brooklyn will be able to do next summer will be shaped by the progress made on the court this season.

Next: 10 best Nets from 1st NBA decade (1976-86)

It remains very difficult to get a superstar-caliber player to buy in to a fixer-upper franchise, regardless of how attractive the upside may be, particularly when free agency allows guys who grew up competing with and against each other at the elite AAU level to duplicate that experience in the NBA.