It’s looking more and more likely that Kyrie Irving will be rocking the black-and-white this upcoming October in Brooklyn.
Multiple Nets players and members of the staff tell NetsDaily they believe they’ll be playing with Irving this upcoming season … and not D’Angelo Russell. There’s belief within the organization that Kyrie is nearly a “done deal” and if that’s the case, Russell is unlikely to return.
There’s been a lot of hints about the displacement in local and not-so-local media.
From the Boston side of things, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported this week that “a source with ties to Roc Nation” told him Irving is “preparing to sign with the Nets while a second “league source” said he’s operating “under the belief that Irving wants to join the Nets.”
NetsDaily learned in late May that Boston was reluctant to offer foundation pieces for Anthony Davis, namely Jayson Tatum, because they were uncertain about Irving’s plans. Now, the Celtics chances of wooing Irving back with the promise of Davis have evaporated. The Pelicans are dealing Davis to the Lakers and the manner in which the trade is currently constituted doesn’t give L.A. enough space to take on Irving’s max deal.
Moreover, SNY’s Ian Begley reported on Friday night that despite prior reports, the Nets would be willing to part with the 23-year-old Russell if Irving is signed.
“… The Nets’ hopes of landing stars in Brooklyn will have an impact on Russell’s future with the club.
If Irving signs with the Nets, SNY sources familiar with the matter say it is highly unlikely that Russell remains with the Nets. Members of the Nets organization have communicated that idea in recent days, per sources.”
He later added that that the Indiana Pacers are interested in the All-Star.
However, league sources told NetsDaily that the Nets remain “fluid and flexible” on free agency and denied the Nets had communicated with Russell “in any way” regarding the consequences of an Irving signing.
Other inside sources have told ND that, “DLo is likely gone” if Kyrie signs.
In Latvia, Rodions Kurucs is wrapping up Basketball Without Borders Europe, gave voice to what other members of the team have said privately. While quoting news reports, not inside information, Kurucs mentioned the All-NBA point guard to a Latvian TV reporter.
“As far as I understand from the press, the Nets are trying to get one of the league’s stars Kyrie Irving,” said Kurucs, according to a Google Translation of his comments. “Recently the team got rid of a couple of players to free up their salary space. I am waiting for the media to post new news, because it will be interesting to see what will happen In the summer...”
The second year player also hinted that the acquisition of a star free agents will have ramifications.
“The team has to change completely because it will have to get rid of other players by signing a contract with a star,” Kurucs added. “The team has already joined Taurean Prince of the Atlanta Hawks. He will also be a new player, so it will be interesting to play together.”
The pieces to the picture began to form in May as Irving’s time in Boston was falling apart. A West Orange native, Irving grew up a Nets fan and played at the Continental Airlines Arena during a school trip in fourth grade, the Nets’ home arena during the time. That, he’s said, was the day he knew he wanted to play in the NBA.
NetsDaily learned in May that Kyrie’s camp has been pushing the New Jersey native to Brooklyn because of the culture fit and success they’ve endured under Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson. During an NBA TV discussion in February, David Griffin, former Cavaliers GM, now EVP of basketball operations for the Pelicans, argued that Brooklyn is the “Fit that’s better for him in terms of his mindset.” Griffin, known to be close to Irving, later added, “I think he likes what they’ve done there, culturally.”
More recently, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Irving was signing with Roc Nation, the agency owned by Jay-Z -- the Nets former minority stockholder -- and run by Michael Yormark, Nets CEO Brett Yormark’s twin brother.
As Kurucs noted, Sean Marks dumped Allen Crabbe and traded two first rounders to the Hawks in return for Taurean Prince ... and cap space. Prince is set to make $15 million less than Crabbe’s $18.5 million and by trading the 17th pick, the Nets saved another $2.9 million.
It was the first of many moves for Marks to make any of this a reality but it was also an indicator that Brooklyn wasn’t looking to create space only for Kyrie Irving. As Bobby Marks, the former Nets assistant GM who now works for ESPN, that extra space was for “someone else.” that the Nets already had enough to sign Irving.
Indeed, the Nets are projected to clear as much as $66 million of cap room if they renounce all their free agents. If they keep Russell, that number would decrease to $46 million.
Make no mistake: Losing Russell would be a big blow for the Nets organization, one that preaches continuity and development. Russell took an irrelevant Nets team and brought them to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, averaging career-high’s in points (21.1) and assists (7.0), all while he became an All-Star and Most Improved Player finalist. He embraced Brooklyn after his name was tarnished in Los Angeles – and Brooklyn embraced him as one of their own, as he quickly became the face of the franchise among the fanbase.
Sources told NetsDaily back in May that the Nets want to bring Russell back and that he would like to be back, but given the circumstances of big-game hunting, neither side has been able to commit. ND was also told in May that the Nets were open to pairing Irving and Russell if they couldn’t land another big-name free agent to pair with Russell.
However, there is a level of confidence within the organization that they could land another big name with Irving, namely Kevin Durant, despite a recent Achilles injury that will likely keep him out for the entire 2019-2020 season.
Marks and the Nets had their eyes on the big prize since last summer. Now, with free agency looming and a ton of stars and superstars available on the market, players and their agents noticed the change in Brooklyn’s culture, personnel and style of play.
“It’s about being able to stay flexible and that can happen in a year from now where we’ll have more tools,” Marks said last July. “At the season-ending press conference, there were a different set of circumstances, so things have changed a little bit in the last three months. We have a year to prepare for summer of 2019.” (emphasis added)
Then, the team made its unexpected jump from 28 to 42 wins, qualifying for their first playoff series since the 2014-2015 season. Marks, Atkinson and ownership have been committed to luring in the best talent and competing with the best teams around the NBA. That was the plan the whole time. The improbable run, led by Russell, was the cherry on the cake.
“We have options. We have great options,” Kenny Atkinson told ESPN at the NBA Draft Combine .“We have a great young core that we have that are coming back. And then obviously Sean has done a fantastic job creating cap space…. We’re going to have options. A, I think we all know what A is.”
“Plan A” was/is pairing up Irving and Durant in Brooklyn. And as July 1 approaches, it’s beginning to look like their plan might be coming to fruition. To some, this isn’t much of a surprise.
When Marks and Atkinson took over and started their culture shift in 2016, veteran Luis Scola said, “Once the [Nets] win, they will get everyone they want.”
Of course, nothing can be set in stone —or on a dotted line— for another two weeks, at 6 p.m. on June 30. Should the Nets strike out, there’s a plan for that as well. Patience.
Joe Tsai, the Nets minority owner, also seemed to hint last month that even if the Nets don’t hit a home run in free agency, the team will be just fine because of the culture Marks and Atkinson have created.
“You have to have patience when you’re in a rebuild. You look for all the pieces and you try to put all the pieces in place and the second thing is that players get better so you don’t need to go out and bring someone in.” he told NetsDaily on May 9.
“If someone has been performing at their peak, that’s great, but there are other players, especially young players that have the head room to get better. So you’re always looking for that potential. And when you put all that together, with time, I think that formula works.”