With the NBA Draft three days away and free agency around the corner, trade conversations, signings and pursuits for all 30 teams have begun in earnest. Across the league, major free agents — and potential free agents — are being monitored: Chicago’s Zach LaVine, Washington’s Bradley Beal, Philadelphia’s James Harden, Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, Charlotte’s Miles Bridges, Dallas’ Jalen Brunson, Portland’s Anfernee Simons and more.
But one of the most anticipated free-agency situations involves Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, who has a June 29 deadline on his $36.9 million player option for the 2022-23 season. However, multiple sources tell The Athletic that conversations about Irving’s future have gone stagnant between him and the Nets. An impasse currently exists among the parties that clears the way for the seven-time All-Star to consider the open marketplace, those sources said.
Irving joined the Nets along with Kevin Durant in the summer of 2019, though Durant missed their first season together as he recovered from a torn Achilles tendon. Irving made the All-Star team in 2020-21 and helped lead the franchise to the Eastern Conference semifinals alongside Durant and James Harden prior to an ankle injury in a series against the Bucks. After the past season, in which he played just 29 games and missed most of the season’s home games because of his decision not to comply with New York City’s vaccine mandate, Irving made clear that he intended to return to the Nets in the summer and continue to build with Durant and newcomer Ben Simmons. He has averaged 27.2 points, 6.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game and made 40.4 percent of his 3-point attempts in three seasons with Brooklyn, but he has appeared in 103 of 216 regular-season games.
“I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving said on April 25 after the Nets’ season-ending sweep to the Celtics in the first round of the East playoffs.
Nearly two months later, it appears both sides have serious work to do in order to find a resolution that brings Irving back to Brooklyn and his co-star in Durant, who is under contract with the Nets through 2025-26. Several teams across the league have kept tabs on the situation, wondering about the future of Irving and Brooklyn.
The Lakers, Knicks and Clippers are expected to be among the interested suitors if Irving heads elsewhere, multiple sources tell The Athletic.
For the Lakers, the likely path to acquire Irving — and reunite him with LeBron James — would be Irving opting in to facilitate a trade, because the Lakers cannot realistically clear cap space to sign him themselves, and a sign-and-trade would trigger the hard cap, thus making acquiring Irving significantly more difficult. If Irving would opt in, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka would have to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement’s salary-matching rules, meaning if Irving’s $36.6 million was the only incoming salary, the Lakers could send anywhere from $29.3 million to $45.8 million to the Nets and /or a third team in a legal transaction.
For the Knicks, the likely path to acquire Irving depends on what the Nets prioritize. New York is even with the salary-cap line for 2022-23 so it could clear enough space to sign Irving on a maximum contract by offloading salaries such as Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel and Kemba Walker. But the Knicks could also offer some or all of those players to the Nets or a third team in a possible sign-and-trade.
For the Clippers, the likely path to get Irving requires him to opt in, because they are significantly over both the luxury-tax line and the hard cap for 2022-23. To satisfy salary matching, the Clippers would need to send out between $29.3 million and $45.8 million to the Nets and/or a third team if Irving is the only salary headed their way. The Clippers’ scenario is less complicated than the Lakers, as the Clippers have a series of players making $11 million to $17 million to work with. For example, two or three of Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson going out satisfies the CBA’s trade rules, and they also have a collection of young players like Terance Mann or Brandon Boston who could help sweeten the deal.
A potential Irving departure would be incredibly damaging to the Nets because of their limited ability to replace him and his salary slot should Irving sign elsewhere as a free agent. A likelier path to any departure would be via sign-and-trade. Brooklyn owes $111 million to six players in 2022-23, not including Irving, so even filling out the roster with minimum salaries would put the Nets over next season’s projected salary cap of $122 million. If Irving bolts, Brooklyn’s strongest path to adding talent would be the full $10.3 million midlevel exception. Irving is also eligible for a new deal via exercising his player option and extending his contract from there, which could land him a starting salary of $45.2 million for 2023-24.
“We’re looking for guys that want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, play team basketball and be available,” Net GM Sean Marks said in May. “That goes not only for Kyrie but everybody here.”
For the Nets, the fate of Irving’s free agency is one to keep an eye on as the NBA Draft and free agency near.
More NBA news and notes
Hawks free-agent guard Lou Williams intends to continue his playing career, his agent Wallace Prather says. “(Williams) is not pursuing retirement, and I’ll be proactive in talking to teams during free agency,” Prather said. Williams, a 17-year veteran, averaged 6.3 points and 14.3 minutes a game over 56 contests this past season.
Rival executives expect Hornets restricted free agent Miles Bridges to command a maximum — or near-max — deal in July, and sources said there’s hesitancy from Charlotte to match a max sheet. Bridges had a breakout season in 2021-22, averaging 20.2 points, seven rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. In a league that saw wings such as Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins and Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have game-changing impacts on a run to the NBA Finals, Bridges’ two-way ability on the wing has become incredibly valued toward winning.
Cavaliers restricted free agent Collin Sexton has been cleared for full basketball activities, sources said. Sexton underwent surgery in November to repair a torn meniscus and has made a complete recovery on the eve of entering free agency. Rival execs believe Sexton’s market could reach the $20 million-per-year range.
The Pacers are seriously discussing trades centered on Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner, sources said. The Wizards and Knicks are interested in Brogdon, armed with the Nos. 10 and 11 picks respectively, sources said. The Hornets have expressed interest in Turner, those sources said. Still, Indiana, which has the No. 6 pick in the draft, could elect to continue retooling its veteran core rather than rebuild entirely around young players.
The Timberwolves have discussed deals around veteran centers, including Atlanta’s Clint Capela, sources said.
The Kings are becoming increasingly comfortable drafting at No. 4 in Thursday’s draft and have described a steep price for teams behind them in the lottery who are attempting to trade up, sources said. Sacramento general manager Monte McNair has engaged in conversations around Hawks forward John Collins — among a slew of other established, productive players in the market — but there has been no involvement of the No. 4 pick in the discussions centered on Collins, and McNair will ultimately make the decision on the pick, according to sources.
Sources said the Jazz are scheduling second interview times with almost all of their 15 head coaching candidates as the next step in the process.
The 15 head coaching candidates are: Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant; current assistant Alex Jensen; current assistant Lamar Skeeter; Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin; Celtics assistant Will Hardy; Bucks assisting Charles Lee; Heat assistant Chris Quinn; Mavericks assistant Sean Sweeney; Celtics assistant Joe Mazzulla; Assistant Pistons Jerome Allen; 76ers assistant Sam Cassell; Suns assistant Kevin Young; G League head coach Jason Terry; train Lakers coach Frank Vogel; and ex-Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts.
• Auburn’s Jabari Smith, who worked out and met with the Magic (No. 1) and Thunder (No. 2) during the predraft process, is a virtual lock to go in the top two in the draft. He remains a favorite to go No. 1.
• Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe is the mystery man of the NBA Draft. Sharpe is a projected high lottery pick, and sources say he has conducted strong group workouts such as three-on-three and four-on-four scrimmages to showcase his ability for teams who have not seen him play organized basketball over the past year or two. Instead of conducting individual workouts, Sharpe sought the competition, working out for teams between the draft ranges of Nos. 1-13.
• The G League Ignite’s Michael Foster will end up working out for 15 teams, with his 6-foot-9 build and expected versatility at the next level making him a candidate to be a draft sleeper. In 13 games for the Ignite last season, Foster averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds per game.
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