Kevin Durant ‘Is Next’ on the Nets’ Trade To-Do List: NBA Execs

Kevin Durant (left) and Kyrie Irving of the Nets

Getty Kevin Durant (left) and Kyrie Irving of the Nets

While the news of Kyrie Irving seeking a trade away from the Nets has been greeted with appropriate gnashing of the teeth and rolling of the eyes, the reaction in many NBA front offices has been a bit more muted, something along the lines of, “That’s cute.”

Because ultimately, what happens next for Irving probably only really matters in the context of what happens with the guy he helped bring to Brooklyn in the first place, star forward Kevin Durant.

“I think it is mostly just, ‘Hey, call us when the big guy wants out, OK?’” one Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “And most of us expect that is where this is all heading.”

Durant, of course, registered a trade demand in June, just ahead of the opening of NBA free agency. His timing was terrible and the Nets were unable (or, perhaps, unwilling) to find a suitable trade. That came days after talks between the Nets and Irving on a contract extension broke down, too.

Around the league, front-office denizens are expecting that those in charge of the Nets—namely, owner Joe Tsai—have had enough of the Kyrie-and-Kevin show and are ready to throw in the towel on the whole thing. That does not mean Durant will be moved before Thursday’s trade deadline, but it likely means he will not start next season in Brooklyn.

“Remember, they gave up a good up-and-coming kind of team to bring in those two guys,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports. “I think they liked that team a lot more, they were easy to root for, they had a good coach (Kenny Atkinson), they had some decent young players. They sort of sold their souls for Kyrie and Durant and then James Harden, too, and at some point, you have to say, ‘We’re sick of letting players kick us around.’

“I know Joe Tsai came into this year looking at it like, ‘Let’s see how this plays out.’ Well, he’s seen how it has played out. They got Ben Simmons and he has been a problem, too. No matter what happens with Kyrie in the next few days, you have to think that Joe Tsai is going to say it is time to tear it all down and start over. And that means KD is next up.”

Kyrie Irving Wants to Protect Bird Rights

As for Irving, one of the motivating factors behind his request, according to sources around the league, is the protection of his Bird Rights. That is the salary-cap exception that allows the team that has him on board to re-sign him when he becomes a free agent this summer without needing to create cap space.

As it stands, if the Nets keep Irving and decide not to re-sign him in the offseason, Irving would be looking at very limited options in free agency. Teams with cap space—such as Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio—would have zero interest in adding Irving to their mix. So Irving would be limited to getting a deal for the mid-level exception, likely the taxpayer exception. That would be around $7 million per year for two years.

That’s a steep, steep drop from the $37 million he will make this season, and from the max extension he wants from the Nets.

“It is not hard for him to look at what is happening and see that he could wind up the big loser here,” the executive said. “Brooklyn can wind up a loser, too, but the worst that happens for them is they make a clean break. They let him walk. You’d like to get something in return, but you do not have to, you certainly don’t have to take on someone else’s bad contract—Kyle Lowry, Tim Hardaway Jr., guys like that.”

Indeed, the Heat and Mavericks have been mentioned as possible Irving suitors, but the Nets are not much interested in adding long-term salary just to be rid of Irving.

Kevin Durant Could Loom Over Trade Deadline

The possibility of Durant becoming more genuinely available this offseason is an added factor in the approach teams are taking to this trade deadline. If a team has picks or young players it would be willing to move, there may be a reluctance to include them if they could be used later in a deal for Durant.

“I think Golden State is a good example of that,” the GM said. “They’ve got these young guys and some people in that organization want to hang onto them, some want to move off them and win now. Lie, trade them on Thursday. But that is probably not going to happen, and the middle road is, hang on to them for this year and if they don’t pull things together, use them to go and make an offer for KD. They’d love to bring KD back to finish out his career with Steph and Klay.”

The Nets are not shopping Durant just yet, not with the Irving drama to handle first. But around the league, it’s expected that will change.

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