Three Kyrie Irving Free Agency Destinations
By Liam McKeone
The Brooklyn Nets are in the early stages of what may be a contentious offseason regarding Kyrie Irving's future. Irving has a player option this offseason but will very likely opt out in pursuit of signing a max contract. Recent scuttlebutt suggests the Nets are unwilling to offer that to Irving after he's missed 81 games over the last two seasons for various... reasons. Unfortunately for the Nets, that same scuttlebutt also suggests that Kevin Durant sees him and Irving as a package deal. Knowing that, the franchise will probably end up giving Kyrie a gigantic new contract this offseason, if only because it nearly guarantees they'll have Durant for the duration of his contract.
But what if they didn't? What if they decided to call Durant's bluff and told Kyrie he's far too much of a flight risk to gift over $200 million? Neither player could *do* anything about that, technically. Durant did just sign a four-year extension last offseason. Irving could see it coming and opt into his player option but it feels like there is no universe in which he's willing to play out a whole season on an expiring contract considering his lengthy injury history.
Let's say all that happens. Let's say that the Nets refuse to fork over the max deal Irving wants and he decides to take his services to the open market. Who would be inspired to pony up for the mercurial yet extraordinarily talented point guard? Here are a few possibilities.
New York Knicks
This is the maximum chaos option and it actually makes a lot of sense for everybody involved! The Knicks have a well-earned reputation of throwing insane money at big names no matter what and they'd be able to carve out max contract space with a trade or two. Irving grew up in New Jersey and appears to be motivated to stay in the general area. Going to the Knicks comes with the added benefit of sticking it to Brooklyn and the opportunity to play a rather significant part in the cross-town rivalry, which Irving probably doesn't care about but has to be aware of.
As far as the basketball side goes, the Knicks do need a point guard and Irving would provide the scoring punch at the 1 that the team lacked last year. It is hard to see Irving surviving a full season under Tom Thibodeau's "grind all the good players into dust" mantra but that could be managed. A combination of location, need, and ability to pay makes the Knicks the most likely destination for Irving if he does hit the open market.
Los Angeles Lakers
A close second in the maximum chaos department, the Lakers are incapable of signing anybody above the veteran minimum this offseason as a consequence of their bloated cap sheet. But Irving could end up a Laker should he desire it via sign-and-trade. Who would Los Angeles trade? Why, Russell Westbrook, of course. Westbrook's inaugural season in purple and gold was an utter catastrophe that everybody (except Phil Jackson, apparently) would like to move on from. Irving gets to reunite with LeBron James as an older and "wiser" player. L.A. still boasts a certified three-star lineup.
The obvious obstacle here is that the Nets would probably prefer to let Irving leave for nothing instead of taking on Westbrook's obscene 2022-23 salary and all his other issues. Especially given he and Durant did not leave on the best of terms after nearly a decade together in Oklahoma City. But if Brooklyn got a third team involved and ended up with a draft pick or two for their troubles, it's a deal that could happen.
Like the Lakers, the Heat are capped out beyond belief. And unlike the Lakers, Miami had a fairly successful season that everybody feels pretty good about. But they appear to be stumbling to a finish in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, and their No. 1 issue is a complete lack of shot creation from guys not named Jimmy Butler. Kyle Lowry's bum hamstring has turned him into a shade of what he was and Tyler Herro can't get it done when a playoff defense's attention is focused entirely upon him.
Enter Irving, who can create something from nothing on every possession. He'd solve a lot of the Heat's spacing issues simply by being on the court and Erik Spoelstra is absolutely capable of covering up the star point guard's defensive deficiencies. The Heat would have to go for a sign-and-trade to get Irving, probably involving Lowry, and they may not want to give up on him yet after injuries and personal issues sabotaged his season. But Pat Riley loves going big-name hunting. This would certainly qualify.