Kyrie Irving is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent this summer. Could the Brooklyn Nets be in the mix?
The Brooklyn Nets have been on the periphery of the Kyrie Irving free agency talks from the time it became apparent the former All-NBA selection plans to opt out of the last year of his contract to test the waters as an unrestricted free agent come July 1.
And the speculation that the Nets could be in play for the soon-to-be 27-year-old (Irving’s birthday is March 23) has been there from the beginning, given Irving’s New Jersey roots and the fact Irving grew up a fan of the Jason Kidd-era New Jersey Nets.
Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson recently spoke on the Scoop B Radio Podcast with Chris Broussard of FS1, with one of the topics being Irving’s decision, specifically whether Irving’s recent reconciliation with Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James could send him to the West Coast.
Broussard said on the podcast:
"“I don’t think the media is making too much of it at all. I mean, you demanded a trade from LeBron James and his team and, you know, then, two years later, you call him up and you admitted, unsolicited, you brought it up yourself to the media that you called him and apologized to him for being that stubborn, young teammate, so I think that’s a big story.”"
However, Robinson also reported that a league source said not to dismiss Irving’s ties to New York, rooted in growing up in West Orange, N.J., with the New York skyline a constant companion.
Those New Jersey Nets teams Irving followed as a kid were coached by Byron Scott, who lived in nearby Livingston as Irving came up in West Orange. Scott later coached Irving with the Cleveland Cavaliers early in Irving’s career.
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Kyrie’s father is a Bronx native, as is his godfather, former NBA point guard Rod Strickland.
Irving’s situation flared at the recent NBA All-Star Game with his interactions with Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, who will be a free agent this summer as well.
Irving is a mega talent. But here’s the thing. His popularity with fans — six All-Star selections — doesn’t necessarily jive with his performance on the court — one All-NBA selection.
Part of that is that he’s had one truly healthy season, one in which he didn’t miss at least 10 games due to injury. That was in 2014-15, when Irving played in 75 games the first year James was back with the Cavaliers.
Not coincidentally, that was also the one season Irving made a postseason All-NBA team, which is a much better barometer of a player’s career than simply counting All-Star berths.
But even then, Irving injured a knee in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and missed the rest of the series, as well as a large chunk of the following season.
Irving missed 11 games as a rookie in 2011-12, then missed 13 games, 11 games, seven games, 29 games, 10 games and 22 games since.
This season, Irving has already been out for 11 games with a variety of ailments.
So the question, if you’re the Brooklyn Nets, becomes: Do you gamble on the health of a player who will be 27, 28, 29 and 30 over the course of a four-year contract and who already has a very checkered injury history?
Or do you commit to a player you’ve spent two years, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and a late first-round pick to develop? A player who, incidentally, is four years younger than Irving, just became your team’s first All-Star selection in five years (though not likely to win an All-NBA spot).
That’s the elephant in the room for the Nets. Pursuing Irving would almost necessitate severing ties with D’Angelo Russell, who has emerged this season as the leader of the team and a clutch late-game performer.
Russell isn’t without his own injury concerns. He missed 19 games while with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016-17 because of a knee problem and missed 34 games in his first season with the Nets in 2017-18 after needing surgery in November 2017 to remove “loose bodies” from his left knee.
But Russell has been healthy this season, starting every game for Brooklyn save for the Dec. 29 road game against the Milwaukee Bucks when he was rested along with veteran center Ed Davis.
While Russell’s career path is on rapid incline, with increase per 36 minutes in points and assists on career-best shooting across the board, Irving is a known quantity, one of the NBA’s true superstars, and is a player with Rookie of the Year, All-NBA and NBA championship pedigree.
The future of the rebuild in Brooklyn may very well hinge on that choice.