With the NBA draft in three days and free agency around the corner, trade talks, contract signings and pursuits have begun in earnest for all 30 teams. Across the league, major free agents — and potential free agents — are being monitored: Chicago’s Zach LaVine, Washington’s Bradley Beal, Philadelphia’s James Harden, Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, Charlotte’s Miles Bridges, Dallas’ Jalen Brunson, Portland’s Anfernee Simons and more.
But one of the most anticipated free agency situations involves Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, who has a June 29 deadline for his $36.9 million player option for the 2022-23 season. However, several sources say the athlete that talks between him and the Nets about Irving’s future have stalled. An impasse currently exists between the parties, clearing the way for the seven-time All-Star to consider the open market, these sources said.
Irving joined the Nets alongside Kevin Durant in the summer of 2019, although Durant missed their first season together while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Irving became an All-Star Team in 2020-21 and helped lead the franchise to the Eastern Conference Semifinals alongside Durant and James Harden before suffering an ankle injury in Game 4 against the Bucks. After the past season, in which he played just 29 games and missed most of the season’s home games due to his decision not to comply with New York City’s vaccination mandate, Irving made it clear that he intended to return to the Nets in the summer and continue with Durant and newcomer Ben Simmons. He’s averaged 27.2 points, 6.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game and made 40.4 percent of his 3-point attempts in three seasons with Brooklyn, but he’s appeared in 103 of 216 regular-season games .
“I really have no plans to go anywhere,” Irving said April 25 after the Nets defeated the Celtics in the first round of the East Playoffs.
Almost two months later, both sides appear to be doing serious work to find a solution that will bring Irving back to Brooklyn and his co-star in Durant, who is signed with the Nets through 2025-26. Several teams in the league have been keeping tabs on the situation and are concerned about the future of Irving and Brooklyn.
The Lakers, Knicks and Clippers are expected to be among the interested applicants if Irving goes elsewhere, multiple sources say the athlete.
For the Lakers, the likely path to acquiring Irving — and reuniting him with LeBron James — would be Irving choosing to ease a trade as the Lakers realistically can’t create a place to sign him themselves and a Sign-and-Trade would trigger the hard cap, making it significantly more difficult to acquire Irving. If Irving chose to do so, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka would have to comply with the wage adjustment rules of the collective agreement, meaning that if Irving’s $36.6 million was the only incoming salary, the Lakers would be between $29.3 million and $45 $.8 million to the Nets and/or a third team in a legal deal.
For the Knicks, the likely path to acquiring Irving depends on what the Nets prioritize. New York is balanced with the 2022-23 salary cap, so it could make enough room for Irving to sign a maximum contract, ditching salaries like Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel and Kemba Walker. But the Knicks could also offer some or all of those players to the Nets or a third team in a possible sign-and-trade.
For the Clippers, the likely path to getting Irving will require him to sign up as they are well above both the luxury tax cap and the hard cap for 2022-23. To meet the pay match, the Clippers would need to send anywhere from $29.3 million to $45.8 million to the Nets and/or a third team if Irving is the only salary coming their way. The Clippers’ scenario is less complicated than the Lakers’ because the Clippers have a number of $11-$17 million players to work with. For example, two or three of Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson going out meet the CBA’s trading rules, and they also have a collection of young players like Terance Mann or Brandon Boston who could help sweeten the deal .
A potential departure of Irving would be incredibly detrimental to the Nets given their limited ability to replace him and his pay slot should Irving sign elsewhere as a free agent. A more likely route to each departure would be via sign-and-trade. Brooklyn owes six players $111 million in 2022-23, not including Irving. Even filling the roster with minimum salaries would put the Nets above next season’s projected salary cap of $122 million. If Irving breaks through, Brooklyn’s strongest avenue to add talent would be the full $10.3 million mid-level exception. Irving is also eligible for a new deal by exercising his player option and extending his contract from there, which could net him an initial salary of $45.2 million for 2023-24.
“We’re looking for people who want to be part of something bigger, play team basketball and be available,” Net GM Sean Marks said in May. “It’s not just for Kyrie, it’s for everyone here.”
For the Nets, the fate of Irving’s free agency is one to watch as the NBA draft and free agency draw near.
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Hawks free agent guard Lou Williams intends to continue his playing career, his agent Wallace Prather says. “(Williams) is not targeting retirement and I will be proactive in speaking to teams during free agency,” Prather said. Williams, a 17-year veteran, averaged 6.3 points and 14.3 minutes per game in 56 competitions last season.
Rival executives expect Hornet’s restricted free agent Miles Bridges to order a maximum — or near-maximum — deal in July, and sources said Charlotte is reluctant to hit a maximum hand. Bridges had a breakout season in 2021-22, averaging 20.2 points, seven rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. In a league where wingers like Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins and Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown made game-changing impacts on a run to the NBA Finals, Bridges’ two-way ability on the wing for the win is incredibly appreciated.
Cavaliers restricted free agent Collin Sexton has been cleared for full basketball activity, sources said. Sexton underwent surgery in November to repair a torn meniscus and has made a full recovery on the eve of entering the free hand. Competing executives believe Sexton’s market could hit the $20 million-a-year mark.
The Pacers are seriously discussing trades centered on Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner, sources said. The Wizards and Knicks are interested in Brogdon, armed with No. 10 and No. 11 picks, respectively, sources said. The Hornets have expressed an interest in Turner, these sources said. Still, Indiana, which has the No. 6 in the draft, could choose to further retool its veteran core rather than completely rebuild it around young players.
The Timberwolves have been discussing deals around veterans centers including Atlanta’s Clint Capela, sources said.
The Kings are increasingly comfortable drafting No. 4 in Thursday’s draft and have described a hefty price tag for teams behind them in the lottery trying to move up, sources said. Sacramento general manager Monte McNair has held talks centered around Hawks forward John Collins — alongside a host of other established, prolific players in the market — but the No. 4 hasn’t been involved in the discussions, which have centered on Collins and McNair According to sources, will ultimately make the decision on the selection.
Sources said the Jazz are planning second interview periods with nearly all of their 15 head coaching candidates as the next step in the process.
The 15 head coaching candidates are: Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant; current assistant Alex Jensen; current assistant Lamar Skeeter; Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin; Celtics assistant Will Hardy; Bucks assistant Charles Lee; heat assistant Chris Quinn; Mavericks assistant Sean Sweeney; Celtics assistant Joe Mazzulla; piston assistant Jerome Allen; 76ers assistant Sam Cassell; Sun’s assistant Kevin Young; G-League head coach Jason Terry; former Lakers coach Frank Vogel; and ex-Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts.
• Auburn’s Jabari Smith, who trained and met with Magic (No. 1) and Thunder (No. 2) during the pre-draft process, is a virtual suspension, making the top two in the draft. He remains a favorite at #1.
• Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe is the mystery man of the NBA draft. Sharpe is a predicted top Lottery pick, and sources say he’s been putting on strong group practices like three-on-three scrimmages to showcase his skills for teams that haven’t seen him in organized basketball for the past year or two have seen. Rather than doing individual workouts, Sharpe sought out competition and coached for teams between the #1-13 draft ranges.
• G League Ignite’s Michael Foster will end up coaching for 15 teams, but his 6’1″ frame and expected next-level versatility make him a candidate for the train sleeper. In 13 games for the Ignite last season, Foster averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds per game.
— The athlete‘s Danny Leroux contributed to the cap analysis in this report.
(Photo: Winslow Townson / USA Today)