Four Kyrie Irving Trade Destinations
By Liam McKeone
It appears the fissure between Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets is too wide to be bridged. The Nets have balked at every turn in regards to Irving's desire for a long-term contract extension. Irving presumably feels insulted that the team isn't willing to invest in him like that, and from all reports Kevin Durant isn't happy about it, either.
All that helps explain how we arrived here, staring at the news that Irving has been given permission to seek sign-and-trade partners by Brooklyn. Via Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News:
The Nets and Kyrie Irving have not gotten any closer to finding an amicable solution that keeps the superstar guard in Brooklyn.
In fact, things are trending the opposite direction: While Nets GM Sean Marks and superstar forward Kevin Durant have yet to speak this offseason, Irving’s camp has requested and received permission from the Nets to speak with other teams about sign-and-trade packages, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.
Winfield also notes that Irving has six teams he'd like to join if he doesn't stay with the Nets: the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Heat, 76ers and Mavericks. It is a fluid situation that can change in an instant if KD asks for a trade himself. And this case with Irving may very well be an instance in which the Nets are basically daring him to find another team willing to give him guaranteed money in the long term.
Regardless, it is now time to look at the NBA landscape post-draft and try to guess who will have the means and motivation to land Irving's talents.
Los Angeles Lakers
For whatever reason, the Lakers keep coming up when new homes for Irving are discussed. Maybe it's because they are the Lakers, maybe it's because of LeBron James, and maybe Irving suddenly wants to switch coasts. Regardless of the reason why, the reality must be faced that it'll be nearly impossible for the Lakers to sign-and-trade for Irving. They aren't giving up LeBron (as fun as it is to imagine that reality) and they probably won't give up Anthony Davis, which leaves Russell Westbrook.
Winfield said a KD-Westbrook reunion seems unlikely. With Irving's $36 million player option that he has to opt into if he wants a sign-and-trade, those are the only three trade pieces the Lakers can use unless a third team gets involved, and it'll be a hard sell by Los Angeles to ask another franchise to do them a solid so they can form another superteam of sorts.
Basically, if Irving wants to go to the Lakers as bad as he appears to, he has to opt out and sign a cheap deal. A trade will be very hard to come by.
One of the teams on Irving's list, the Mavs make a ton of sense in theory. The offense can run through Luka Doncic for the entire regular season but the playoffs reminded everybody the importance of having a secondary creator when defenses get completely keyed into the team's superstar. For all of Irving's problems, he might be the best secondary creator in the league. He and Doncic would be an elite offensive pairing. Defensively, things would get really leaky, but the potential offensively is enough to just say screw it and figure things out on the other side of the court later.
Now, with Irving, it's not just the basketball and the Mavs will probably be reluctant to bring in a star with his... mercurial nature alongside Doncic as he develops. A very fair worry. But they can make the money work with just the combination of Davis Bertans and Tim Hardaway Jr. Throw in a bunch of picks and a deal could be had if both sides are interested.
The Heat are on Irving's list, probably because A) Miami is awesome and income-tax free and B) they made it to within one game of the NBA Finals despite a complete lack of production from anybody not named Jimmy Butler. Adding a player of Irving's caliber would solve all their offensive issues that lost them the Celtics series and there's legitimate reason to believe Pat Riley could put an end to all off-court issues, at least while Irving is wearing the Heat uniform. Plus, the money isn't tricky to figure out. Offering Tyler Herro, a fellow sign-and-trade candidate, alongside either Kyle Lowry or Duncan Robinson is not the worst trade package and easy to work with under the cap.
The big problem? There is not a world in which Kyrie Irving, of all people, voluntarily signs up for the Heat Culture program. Their whole mantra goes against everything he's said and done for the last three years. If you're looking for proof that this is all just a negotiation tactic, the inclusion of the Heat on Irving's list of teams is all you need to know. To be fair, it would be hilarious to see him fight Udonis Haslem by the second week of the season.
New York Knicks
The Knicks do seem like a perfect marriage for Irving. He gets to stay home and matches up with an organization as unpredictable as he is. It's hard to imagine him getting along too well with Tom Thibodeau but he forced Kenny Atkinson out pretty easily so Irving wouldn't be worried. The Knicks are so starved for star power that they basically threw away the 11th overall pick in the NBA Draft in order to clear up cap space in preparation for the mere possibility that someone like Irving would become available. They could capitalize and sell tickets by sending out some combination of Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, or RJ Barrett for Irving's services.
This is the most likely outcome if only because we've seen this story from the Knicks before, over and over. Only they would give a long-term contract to a guy who might bail halfway through next season just because he feels like it. He'd bring excitement to Madison Square Garden again but the team would still be a long way from contention.