Everything until now has led up to this point. All the cheeky little trades, the massive ones too, all the salary dumps they took upon themselves, all the restricted free agent tricks, all the G-League reclamation projects and the draft picks, all the extra hours spent in the gym from the coaches and the players, all the late nights from Sean Marks and his crew in the front office. Those things have taken them to a certain height. They’re a playoff team in the East. They’re a fun and enjoyable team. They’re now also a team that the best players in the league might want to play for.
You don’t win the NBA championship with one All Star and while the Brooklyn Nets have gotten to where they are through taking care of all the little things and pretty much just being a flawless organisation… the dream is always championships. It would be silly to take this team this far and then simply settle for being a low playoff seed, nah mate, the Nets are primed to do big things in free agency and based on the rumours that are out there it sounds like they will do big things indeed.
Which is a bit of a risk, let’s be honest. You always have to be careful when deciding to bring some of that diva mentality into what has been a heads-down and do-your-job locker room the last couple seasons. The Nets have been on a steady rise lately and this could shake it all up. It could have a negative impact on the development of the likes of Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen and it will probably mean the end of D’Angelo Russell in Brooklyn having just reinvigorated the young fella’s career to where he was a runner-up for Most Improved. Especially when the chap most linked with them at this point is Kyrie Irving who is a decent dude and a wonderful player but his aloofness kinda tore the Boston Celtics apart and he’s not leaving too many fans behind over there.
In terms of what to do next, there’s no question. You go after a top notch free agent or two. That’s the kind of top level talent that you can’t develop without the kind of luck (and the draft picks) that Brooklyn haven’t been able to rely upon in recent years. And in case you thought there was some doubt about that intention then that was tossed out the window when they flipped Allen Crabbe’s contract, paired with a couple firsties, to Atlanta in return for Taurean Prince and a future second rounder – which sheds big cash off their salary commitments for next season and officially clears up the potential room for two max contracts. You don’t give up two first round picks unless you’re doing this for a damn good reason and that reason, although he’s a useful piece lower down the roster, is not Taurean Prince. They also traded the 27th overall pick to the LA Clippers (for a protected future pick) to clear up another two mill or so in space on draft day. Intentions are clear from Sean Marks.
Now, one of those max offers might still be to D’Angelo Russell who is a restricted free agent. It’s rough on Russell, who is left in the lurch while the team openly recruit for better options his own position, but for the Nets it’s a very useful place to be in. They have his cap hold to deal with but the second they can offer a max deal without touching that, keeping Russell within their control, and the second they know they’re getting a second star then they renounce him and if they whiff then, hey, there’s D’Angelo Russell still there with something to prove.
Russell wants to stay if he can. He’s grown immensely as a player and as a person in Brooklyn and he’s a testament to their organisation… but he doesn’t really have a massive say in the matter as a restricted free agent. The LA Lakers are apparently keen to bring him back but Russell has to wait until the dominoes fall and the Lakers are in a tricky place to make that happen because they’d have to keep their cap space open through those early days of free agency and we all know they’re wrangling wilder horses to pair with LeBron James and Anthony Davis first. The marketplace for Russell is going to have to depend on other free agents and which teams miss out.
All reports seem to strongly hint that Kyrie Irving has bought into the Brooklyn project and is ready to sign nice and quickly assuming that max contract finds its way towards him. And, you know, also assuming that the harvest moon doesn’t interfere with the lights of pisces and emanate that negative energy on a cosmic wavelength, weakening the gaia spirit and locking our enlightened souls within the kali yuga for another ten thousand years, blinding the all-seeing eye and altering the essential lifeforce of the planet. But that feels unlikely so Kyrie’s there ready if they want him.
That team-culture perspective is the main red flag for signing Kyrie Irving but I guess they trust that their culture is strong enough to withstand his distractions and also get the best out of him as a player. It helps that it sounds like he’ll be happy there, unlike in what became a little bit of a toxic situation in Boston (which Kyrie was not blameless for). Plus, typical for Sean Marks, there’s more going on here than meets the all-seeing eye. The Kyrie signing is only half of the plan, a plan which has always been to bring in two superstars.
The thing about Kyrie Irving is that he’s a proven championship winner as a secondary dude. Maybe not the solo leader you want but with Irving in place within the framework the Nets already have… that’s what Sean Marks is hoping will convince Kevin Durant to choose them. KD is just a perfect fit here. Plus he was always leaning towards signing in New York (where he’s currently living as he recovers from that Achilles injury suffered in the NBA Finals) and this way he could live in the Big Apple without having the sideshow of the New York Knicks.
But that injury has really rustled things up. Paying Durant 30% of your salary cap for him to sit out an entire season and then banking on him to be close enough to the player he was before his Achilles snapped is a huge gamble. KD is a transcendent player so it’s a gamble that most teams are going to go for, but it’s another one that’s not without some serious risks, just like Kyrie Irving. Bottom line though, if you add Kyrie and KD to this team then they’re going very deep in the playoffs. With Kyrie in place as bait, KD wouldn’t just be joining a functioning and supportive organisation but a competitive one too. They could have been immediate contenders with those two in place, and they still could be in year two once Durant is fit and healthy. That’s Plan A, at least. We all know better than to expect things not to descend into chaos once free agency opens, though.
The Nets have undergone a stunning rags to riches tale in just three years so they are in a position to handle one more transitional year before going all in. But Kevin Durant might not want and the Knicks aren’t going quietly. So would Brooklyn still pick Kyrie Irving over D’Angelo Russell if they know they’re not getting Kevin Durant? Hmm… the Nets are a clever lot and Sean Marks knows what he’s doing. Methinks he wouldn’t overpay for D’Angelo unless he’s convinced DR is in that top tier of players out there which I can’t see how he does… let’s not forget that until he got hurt last season Caris LeVert was their best player, not Russell. D’Angelo didn’t quite live it up in the playoffs (shooting 3/16 in the elimination game). Granted he’s four years younger than Irving and with more untapped potential, plus he’s familiar with the Nets and would come at least five mill cheaper.
What the Nets won’t do is dig themselves into another inflexible hole without being completely assured that what they have is a contending team. Which is a funky little debate, because how far down the line can you go to where Irving plus Max FA 2 isn’t enough to compete at the top?
Kawhi Leonard for sure, if they can convince him to take a meeting. Jimmy Butler, though? Kemba Walker? Tobias Harris? Whatever point you reach there is probably the point at which you figure you try bring D’Angelo back for cheaper and let Kyrie walk… and you could still add that second tier bloke alongside Russell, or you could sign a few middling fellas and use them as trade bait later in the season when somebody inevitably gets pissed off somewhere else and demands a move. The other thing to consider is that Caris LeVert becomes eligible for an extension this offseason and they’ll have to pay Jarrett Allen at some point in the next few years as well.
And that’s where we’re at, with free agency opening in a few days and the Brooklyn Nets poised but with some complicated decisions to make. Kyrie Irving is better than D’Angelo Russell but he might be more trouble. Kyrie gives you a better chance to get KD but if you still miss out on KD then do you want to be stuck with Kyrie alone? It’s a delicate and difficult balance to find… and that’s why Marksy gets paid the big bucks.
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