The unofficial start of trade season is less than a week away. Next Wednesday marks the first day players signed to free agent deals can be traded. Per Adrian Wojnarowski, that increases the number of players who can be dealt dramatically, from 65 percent of the league to 84 percent. It’s also the one-third mark of the season by which time GM’s have a good sense of what their strengths and weaknesses lie ... and whether they should be in contention or rebuild mode.
In podcasts and articles, speculation is rising about what the Nets should (and will) do, most of it of course revolving about the fate of Kyrie Irving who remains at home unvaccinated and not in compliance with New York City’s COVID regulations. According to most pundits, that’s not likely to change. The speculation is not limited to whether the 29-year-old returns but also where he might wind up IF the Nets decide to move him.
Zach Lowe and Bobby Marks of ESPN, the most recent edition of Lowe’s “Lowe Post” podcast, admitted they don’t know much about what could happen, but provided some speculation, careful to note that that’s all it is.
“There are two of three fun trade destinations for him,” said Lowe of Irving. “When you have a player like James Harden who still doesn’t look like James Harden to me — I don’t care if the free throws are up, I don’t care if his numbers are getting better — he still doesn’t look like James Harden to me.
“But if you have Harden and Durant, you are in a position where you need to get dollar-for-dollar for Kyrie. You can be like, ‘we just need something. We’re getting zero from him right now. He’s not even with us. If you just give us two or three useful role players who can shoot or defend or both, that helps our team.’”
Marks agreed and suggested a couple of possible destinations himself, starting with Dallas.
“I think the obvious teams would be a team like Dallas, right?” said the former Nets GM. “A team like the Mavericks, but I don’t know if any of those role players have appeal, would have appeal to Brooklyn. Let’s just take (Kristaps) Porzingis out of the equation. So guys like (Tim) Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, (Maxi) Kleber, like that package of guys. That’s like what you said, ‘can we get two or three guys to kind of fill in the blanks on our roster that we’ve got some voids at.”
But Marks said that he doubts the Nets would make a move like that unless they know for sure that Irving is not going to get vaccinated and they won’t get him back. Marks also noted that Irving will go into the off-season as a potential free agent. Irving has a $36.9 million player option for 2022-23.
Lowe noted — and this is something other reporters have also said — that the Nets do not want to talk about Irving, a point Marks agree with. Still, Lowe noted, it’s possible the Nets just want to “wash their hands of him” adding, “the Nets haven’t closed the door on him coming back (a point co-owner Clara Wu Tsai made two weeks ago in a YES Network interview when she said, “I really miss seeing Kyrie on the court and looking forward to having him rejoin us.”)
Beyond the Mavs, Lowe speculated that the Clippers could be interested in Irving.
“That’s the wild one,” said Lowe. “They have this pu-pu platter of guys making $15 million a year who are all okay, like Luke Kennard who’s had a nice bounce-back season ... Marcus Morris has become an availability problem for them who helps when he plays but he’s missed half the games. Those are kind of guys would help the Nets.”
Lowe also noted that a team like the Clippers would need to “sit down with Kyrie” to discuss his availability. Still, he noted the Clippers whose GM is Lawrence Frank have “sniffed around third stars” to pair with Paul George and the injured Kawhi Leonard.
Similarly, Alex Schiffer of The Athletic said while he believes it’s unlikely that Irving returns to the Nets, he thinks there is somewhat of a market for him before the February 10 trade deadline.
“A league source recently told me they think Irving’s trade market is better than you’d think, but they had a hard time seeing the Nets getting equal value for him. In short, Brooklyn could get a good player but not an All-Star-caliber piece,” wrote Schiffer in his Nets mailbag.
Schiffer also seemed to dismiss the possibility of a John Wall for Irving deal, noting that Wall has a second year on his deal beyond this one and it’s a very expensive $47.1 million number.
Meanwhile, Jordan Schultz, an ESPN colleague of Marks and Lowe, quoted a source on Irving’s readiness.
“While it’s unclear if Kyrie Irving will play this season, there’s at least this positive news from one league source: “He’s kept himself in playing shape and could probably go 30+ minutes pretty quickly. He’s been getting shots up, running and doing all those things he needs,” Schultz tweeted.
And Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson offered some clarification on his story earlier in the week that Irving was the “happiest” he’s been in a long time.
“He’s happy because he’s because he’s around family, but he’s also sad because he cannot play basketball,” wrote Robinson for SportsKeeda. “He actually wants to play. The big thing about playing for the Nets, which is a big selling point, that he technically grew up on both sides of the Hudson: in both the Bronx and in West Orange, where he played CYO basketball.”
Lowe and Marks also spoke about the possibility of the Nets trading Harden in an sign-and-trade for the 76ers’ Ben Simmons, who like Irving isn’t playing. Marks dismissed the idea, broached two weeks by Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I hear it, and it’s out there, and I know it’s been talked about just based on the relationship with Daryl and James,” said Marks of Daryl Morey, the Philly GM who worked with Harden in Houston. “And if the Simmons situation hasn’t been resolved, I think that’s something you will probably look at [in] the offseason.”
Marks said as well that he didn’t think the Nets have any qualms about Harden wanting to return to Brooklyn despite passing on an extension prior to the season, reportedly so he could get more money this summer.
Lowe also talked about other possible trade pieces, not necessarily for the Nets. One is Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” Grizzlies point guard/point forward who the Spurs took in the 2014 Draft when Sean Marks was assistant GM in San Antonio.
“Slo-Mo (Kyle Anderson) is one of the most obvious trade candidates in the league,” said Lowe. “His role has diminished there and he’s expiring and I’m not sure they’re in a hurry to pay him.”
Anderson, 28, has fallen out of the Grizzlies starting lineup after averaging 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists last season. He makes a little less than $10 million this year on an expiring deal.
How soon might we see some deals. Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted late on Friday afternoon that there’s some movement on the Simmons front. As often happens, once a big piece is moved, it breaks up a logjam and other deals follow.
Meanwhile, Hall of Famer John Stockton became the latest anti-vaxxer to support Irving. Stockton, who’s appeared in anti-vaccine documentaries, praised Irving’s courage.
“You have a lot of supporters Kyrie,” Stockton told anti-vax podcast hosts Chad Fisher and Tony Farmer. “Not all them of can get to you, and you can’t get to all of them, but there’s every bit a majority out there that’s sitting there pulling for you. They’re just not quite as bold as he is. I’m proud of him as an individual to take that kind of individual risk and be that bold for what you feel is right.”