If Kyrie Irving wants to stay with the Brooklyn Nets, his best leverage may be Kevin Durant.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, teams are rooting for Irving to opt out of his $36 million and become a free agent because they believe that it would “give them a chance to cobble together trade packages to acquire Durant.”
The belief is, if Irving leaves — or if the Nets do not want him back — it will result in Durant no longer having the desire to play in Brooklyn if he does not have the pieces to win a championship around him.
Per Wojnarowski, rival agents and players normally speak about Durant’s eagerness in talking to potential free agents but has heard that is not the case this offseason.
Of course, even if Irving were to leave, Wojnarowski noted that Durant would have little flexibility in dictating terms of where he would like to be traded because he has four years remaining on his contract.
He also added that is more a “small-market team’s dream” to try and poach an MVP-caliber star who would have to play for them, but noted that “across the board, this is one big bluff.”
However, a Nets team without Irving hurts their chances at winning an NBA title and Durant would, presumably, not be happy.
The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have been rumored as the teams who would be interested in Irving should he opt out.
He could sign with the Lakers on a $6 million taxpayer exception, a $30 million paycut. The Knicks, on the other hand, are clearing cap space to make a run at Jalen Brunson but if they fail to sign him or lose out on a trade for Pacers point guard Malcolm Brogdon, Irving would be a possibility if he were available, according to Wojnarwoski.
Irving could also opt out and re-sign a new deal with the Nets for more money annually. Wojnarowski mentioned a possible two-year deal worth $42 million annually.
Nevertheless, as the Nets play hardball with Irving, it’s clear that keeping him with Durant and a healthy Ben Simmons gives the team the best chance to win.