Three Kyrie Irving Free Agent Destinations

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving / Tom Pennington/GettyImages

Kyrie Irving will hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career in only a few days. In years past this would have come with the assumption that he would've been one of the most sought-after players in the league and the bidding war for his services would be crowded. In reality, that is not the case. At all. Irving's ugly, public stand-off with the Brooklyn Nets over the antisemitic video he tweeted out and the subsequent trade to the Dallas Mavericks has killed off pretty much all interest in his services.

Really, the Mavs are really only in on him because they traded picks and players to get him and don't want to consider that a sunk cost trade just yet. The widely-held expectation around the NBA, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski this morning, is that Dallas will be the only real suitor for Irving; the question is less where he'll end up and more how much money the Mavs will be willing to fork over (and for how many years). However, in what could be a pushback from Irving's camp to keep the veil of intrigue and boost negotiating position, Ramona Shelburne reported later on ESPN that the former All-NBA point guard would be taking "meetings." It was not specified with whom he would be taking the meetings, but he'll be taking them in an effort to find a place to spend the rest of his career.

Sure sounds like a guy trying to drum up interest. Unless Irving dramatically lowers his price point, which feels quite unlikely at this stage, very few teams will be interested in giving him hundreds of millions of guaranteed dollars when they don't know what guy is going to show up to the facility every day. Will it be the magical scoring guard who is capable of true wizardry at any given moment? Or will it be the guy who might blow up the PR team's day on a whim? Then you get into the injury history and the diminishing returns of pure scoring guards over 30 years-old and you see why nobody wants to give him a big long-term deal.

However, he'll be taking meetings. Let's presume that the meetings will surface once free agency starts and Irving lets everyone know he's willing to negotiate down. Which teams could go after him?

Dallas Mavericks

As previously stated this writer's opinion is that this whole song and dance is mostly aimed at making the Mavs pony up. Luka Doncic needs a co-star to win playoff games and that's why Mark Cuban made the big swing of trading for Irving in the first place. To do so and then let him walk over financial disagreements would be a... suboptimal look for the franchise and may hurt their relationship with their transcendent superstar. So they are the front-runners no matter what.

The Mavs managed to manuever beautifully on draft night, ditching Davis Bertans' contract while still picking young rim-runner Derrick Lively III and filling out their roster by nabbing another first-rounder in Oliver Maxwell-Prosper. So the urgency to pay Irving whatever he wants in order to fix the talent level on the roster outside Doncic is far lesser than it was heading into last Thursday. In all likelihood Irving will stay in a Mavs uniform for at least next season but Dallas is not going to fold immediately at the negotiating table now, which opens the door up for other possibilities.

Los Angeles Lakers

Like, say, the Lakers! It's not totally clear what their plan is this offseason. They went with a bit of a weird pick with the No. 17 overall selection in the 2023 Draft, taking Jalen Hood-Schifino out of Indiana. He's a good player, to be sure, but not the sort of upperclassmen instant contributor that contending teams tend to favor and also not a younger prospect bursting with potential that contending teams will take a swing on if the circumstances are right. No matter how he ends up the pick itself does not reveal much in the way of how LA wants the rest of the offseason to pan out.

It's now been pretty thoroughly debunked that the Lakers have any serious interest in Irving. It seems more likely LeBron James somehow forces his way to Dallas than Irving ending up in purple and gold. But if Irving decides that he is willing to sign for less than max money, for any reason, the Lakers will immediately be interested. They can trust LeBron to corral the mercurial guard when needed and ultimately the investment won't be too much anyway. Not likely, but something to keep an eye on.

Phoenix Suns

This potential destination would have to entail a sign-and-trade on the Mavs' end. Dallas signs Irving and trades him to Phoenix in exchange for Deandre Ayton. It wouldn't make much sense to keep Ayton after acquiring Lively and Richaun Holmes (whatever his status might be he's making $12 million next year so he's an obstacle towards paying Ayton) so the Mavs could flip him to someone else for more assets in a huge trade. That would be a borderline coup on Dallas' part-- turning Irving into Ayton and then turning Ayton into parts would definitely be a more well-rounded team and arguably a better one, even if it does not solve the whole co-star issue that Doncic still needs. Phoenix does it to make KD happy and you'd figure somebody will want Ayton.

Ultimately this is a pipe dream. But one that could happen if the right pieces fall into place.