The Brooklyn Nets are officially shooting for the stars.
On Thursday, the Nets traded Allen Crabbe and two first-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks for Taurean Prince. Trading Crabbe was an inevitable salary dump, as the Nets needed to shed his salary in order to create as much flexibility as possible. So, with Crabbe’s $18.5 million off the books, Brooklyn should have close to $46 million in cap space, which is enough for two max free agents.
With just about three weeks until the beginning of free agency, this move is further proof that the Nets might already have somebody in mind — and it appears like that guy is Kyrie Irving. Sources tell the Daily News that the Brooklyn Nets are “frontrunners” to get Irving if he decides to leave Boston.
Another league source told the News that there is mutual interest between Irving and the Nets, and that Brooklyn is shooting for the big prize: Irving and Kevin Durant.
“The difference between Brooklyn and most teams that have cap space is that Brooklyn has the full package,” one league source said about Durant. “Players want more nowadays and Brooklyn has all the tools. They’ll have a good shot at KD if Kyrie ends up in Brooklyn.”
If KD and Kyrie team up in Brooklyn, it could lead to a realignment of pro basketball in the city, much like the Mets’ gathering of stars — homegrown and traded — changed the face of baseball in the city in the late 1980s. Kids became Mets fans. The Mets challenged the Yankees in attendance. Stars do things like that and the Nets have a chance to finally do the same after another disappointing year in attendance and ratings.
Sure, it’s a dream scenario for the Nets to pair the two and overtake the city, but it’s a dream they believe they can make a reality.
Despite New York’s heavy push for Irving and Durant, the Nets are ready to do whatever it takes to get Irving and Durant playing in Brooklyn. They’ll have hefty competition with the Knicks across the river, who also own two max slots.
A source told the News in late April that Durant is also interested in playing alongside the 24-year-old Caris LeVert, who was on track for an All-Star season before suffering a dislocated foot back in November. The two have worked out together in the past and developed a strong relationship after they received surgery from the same doctor, Dr. Martin O’Malley, Brooklyn’s foot and ankle specialist.
“It’s like a big brother,” LeVert said when he was asked about his relationship with Durant. “He reached out when I was in college. Obviously, we had similar injuries and things like that and the same surgeon. He’s like a big brother… He’s obviously played on a huge stage right now repeatedly for a couple of years playing in the Finals and things like that. He gives a lot of good advice.”
Furthermore, with Irving seriously considering Brooklyn, league executives are beginning to point to Brooklyn when discussing the potential tandem. While explaining how Kyrie is hard to read, one source explained how 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.
Irving grew up a Nets fan and is intrigued by what they’ve built. During an NBA TV discussion in February, former Cavaliers GM David Griffin argued that Brooklyn is the “Fit that’s better for him in terms of his mindset.” He later added, “I think he likes what they’ve done there, culturally.”
After one particularly brutal Celtics loss, Irving noted how he sees other benches dancing while his sulks. That team he was referring to was the Nets, famous for their sideline celebrations after a big play. It fits the cohesiveness they preach when discussing a healthy culture.
It all sounds great, especially for a franchise whose best free agent pickup was Armen Gilliam in 1993. However, there are concerns with bringing in Kyrie and potentially letting D’Angelo Russell go.
Russell turned 23 this past season and made enough strides to make the All-Star team and lift the Nets into the playoffs. League sources told the News that the Nets would be willing to pair the two in the backcourt. However, now with Irving eyeing Brooklyn, there’s talk that Durant will follow suit.
“D’Angelo helped [the Nets] skip steps they wouldn’t have taken without his success. It would be hard for them to let him go,” said one source.
The questions arise. Russell developed, matured and brought the Nets out of the abyss of irrelevancy in the span of two seasons. It would go against everything they’ve preached if they let him go. Some believe that Mikhail Prokhorov and new minority-stake owner, Joe Tsai, might be willing to dip into the luxury tax, but the Nets dealt with that in the past and it turned out to be a nightmare when they were forced to pay a record-high $80 million in luxury taxes in 2013.
There’s more, too.
Shams Charania of Stadium reported that the Nets are one of four teams pursuing Anthony Davis. While the Nets are in talks with New Orleans, there’s reluctance around the organization because they don’t want to move young, foundational pieces for a potential one-year rental, namely players like LeVert and/or Jarrett Allen who the Nets view as the franchise’s cornerstone pieces.
However, with the possibility of the Knicks, Lakers or Celtics landing him and potentially partnering him up with Durant or Irving, the Nets want to remain as flexible as possible. Sources believe Davis and his camp are pushing for a trade before the NBA Draft on June 20.
Safe to say, things are beginning to heat up in Brooklyn. They’ve taken the jump from a 28-win team to a 42-win playoff team. They reside in one of the biggest markets in the world in Brooklyn and possess a relatively new arena and luxurious practice facility.
They’ve built a culture revolving around hard-work, high-character individuals and cohesiveness on and off the court. Marks took over the laughingstock of the NBA — a team without their own draft picks and few tradeable assets to compensate for their lack of talent — and turned them into legitimate players for top free agents just three years into his tenure.
It should also be noted that new minority-stake owner Joe Tsai is the executive vice-chairman and co-founder of Alibaba, the China-based e-commerce company. His wealth is estimated at $9.4 billion, according to Bloomberg Business.
Born in Taiwan and educated in the U.S., Tsai is a citizen of Taiwan, which would open up a whole new market in China for potential endorsements. In simpler terms: Joining the Nets would be an ideal scenario basketball-wise and business-wise for any of these potential free agents.
They’ve mastered the art of rebuilding and developing a culture/identity, now it’s about selling it to big-name free agents. If there was any indication from the Allen Crabbe trade, it’s that Marks and the Brooklyn Nets are all-in at the poker table.