Kyrie Irving sign-and-trade options: How a Knicks, Lakers, or Clippers swap could look

Since the Brooklyn Nets’ season ended at the hands of a Boston Celtics sweep, Kyrie Irving’s future has been in his own hands ahead of his June 29 deadline to decide whether to opt into his $36.9 million player option for next season.

Now it appears he’s unlikely to do so.

On Monday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Irving and the Nets are in a negotiating stalemate, which could lead the 6-foot-2 point guard to consider the open market. The news is slightly surprising given Irving has repeatedly expressed his desire to re-sign with the team he rooted for as a kid in New Jersey and to stay alongside his good friend Kevin Durant.

This summer, Irving and the Nets have four options: Irving can exercise his player option and test free agency next summer, agree to a max contract extension with the Nets for five years and $250 million, sign for less than that with a path to get to it, or the point guard could walk and hit the open free agent market.

Given the unpredictable three years Irving has already had with the Nets, their hesitancy to offer him the full five-year, $250 million max contract he’s eligible for is understand. That contract would pay him more than $40 million for next season and closer to $50 million a year on the back end. That deal would have even greater financial consequences than his first with Brooklyn, given the team is in the repeater tax this coming season and will be further penalized financially for each dollar spent.

So it makes sense that Nets general manager Sean Marks was noncommittal in his postseason press conference when asked about giving Irving the max, citing his failed called shot in August, when he predicted the team would extend both Irving and James Harden before the start of the 2021-22 seasons.

On Monday, shortly after the report of the stalemate dropped, Irving tweeted a GIF of Brother Mouzone, from HBO’s “The Wire.”

The report comes days before the 2022 NBA Draft just to make deals during draft week. Charania reported the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers would all be interested in Irving should he hit the open market. Like Brooklyn, both Los Angeles teams are well into the luxury tax and lack draft assets to trade. Because of the hard cap, neither LA team could sign Irving if he declines his player option and becomes a free agent. For Irving to head west, he would need to opt into his player option and then be traded. The problem for the Nets with replacing Irving is each team has their own share of role players to offer in a sign-and-trade, but no sole player who is likely available can replace his talent.

On Thursday, The Athletic wrote about Irving’s options in free agency. Now, let’s look at the Nets’ possibilities in light of Monday’s report.

Irving leaves for nothing

This would be the doomsday scenario for Brooklyn, but it’s also an unlikely one. The Nets have the ability to offer Irving the most money and assume it’s either dollars or years on a deal causing the stalemate, another team would likely need the Nets to satisfy his wishes and facilitate a deal. But because the organization is in win-now mode, it would have to get intangible assets back in a deal. With Spencer Dinwiddie’s sign-and-trade last season, the Nets acquired an $11.5 million trade exception, which they used to include Seth Curry in February’s deal for Ben Simmons. That isn’t going to cut it this time around. But the Nets didn’t trade Dinwiddie with the expectation of dealing Harden later in the season. There isn’t a no-brainer deal that exists for the Nets amongst the three interested teams, which is why moving Irving but staying in contention is easier said than done.

New York Knicks

Tradable assets: Kemba Walker, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Evan Fournier, Orange Reddish, possibly Julius Randle
Likely untouchable: RJ Barrett

Analysis: A sign-and-trade involving Walker and Irving would swap two local point guards who played at hoops powerhouses (Walker at Rice in the Bronx, Irving at St. Patrick in New Jersey) for each other — but such a trade doesn’t help the Nets at all. Walker has quarreled to stay healthy in recent years. Although Noel would provide much-needed rim protection down low, the Knicks don’t have enough to enter the Nets and improve the team on paper in a two-team deal.

Brooklyn’s offseason has involved providing Steve Nash with the proper people around him to succeed, which is why a reunion with Igor Kokoškov, who coached Nash in Phoenix, has been reported. And who better to play for Nash than Barrett, his godson? But Barrett, who looks like a young star, is likely off-limits in any trade. Regardless, the Knicks are currently over the salary cap. Our own Fred Katz wrote about the gymnastics New York needs to go through in order to create room for Irving.

Los Angeles Lakers

Tradable assets: Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker
Untouchable: LeBron James, Anthony Davis

Analysis: What a story this would be if it played out. Irving and James could reunite for another title after Irving asked out of Cleveland to run his own show, starting the dominos that eventually sent LeBron to the Lakers. And what about the possibility of Westbrook teaming up with Durant again after the Slim Reaper left him for the Warriors? Durant and Westbrook appear to be on better terms since their split, but given Westbrook’s $47.5 million player option, the repeater tax and of course, his past season, it’s hard to see the Nets agreeing to take back him in a trade. Nunn and Horton-Tucker are the kinds of young players Brooklyn has made a reputation for rehabbing in recent years, but given the current timeframe, the Nets can’t be betting on projects.

Los Angeles Clippers

Tradable assets: Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Reggie Jackson, Robert Covington
Untouchable: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George

Analysis: This is probably the best fit of the reported interested teams to both keep the Nets in contention and address needs. The Clippers have the assets to trade away some of their depth while still retaining some of it.

Powell has averaged just 11.3 points per game for his career, but he averaged about 19 the past two seasons. He’d provide a reliable scoring option alongside Durant and Simmons. Kennard led the league in 3-point shooting this past season at 45 percent and adding him would provide the Nets flexibility to deal one or more of Joe Harris, Patty Mills or Seth Curry to address other needs. And Mann, who is childhood best friends with Bruce Brown, was born in Brooklyn and appears poised to break out next season after showing flashes throughout his young career. Covington and Jackson are veteran role players and would be much-needed athletic upgrades on the wing in Brooklyn. For the Clippers, Irving would reunite with Tyronn Lue, who won a ring with him in Cleveland and knows what to expect with Irving.

(Photo of Kyrie Irving: Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

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