The Nets Might Be in Some Real Trouble—Plus, Beal to Become an Unrestricted Free Agent? And: Draft Night is Here

Things have apparently gone from bad to worse for the Brooklyn Nets: after contract extension talks with Kyrie Irving “stalled,” and it was reported that there was a real chance Kyrie could be leaving the Nets, there was chatter (first reported by Woj, I believe) that we shouldn’t be surprised if we see Kyrie take a massive pay cut to go play for the Lakers if that’s what it takes to get him out of Brooklyn and into a situation he views as appealing and acceptable.

We’re talking he’d take the mid level exception with the Lakers (1 year, ~$6 million) and end up losing out on about $30 million given that if he opts in to his deal he’d be making about $37 million.

It sounds insane, and right off the bat I don’t think he’d actually do that, but then again, he voluntarily forfeited about $17 million this past season by not getting the Covid shot. So Kyrie does have a history of sacrificing money in order to fight for what he believes is right.

You can call Kyrie many things, but the man has his principles and he sticks to them.

If there’s any player in the league that would do something as crazy as this, it’s Kyrie. If he really is so offended by the Nets to the point that he’s done with them, he might just opt out of his contract and sign the MLE with the Lakers. I’d put the odds of this at about 5%, but still, that’s higher than it would be for any other player in the league. For any other player the odds would be 0%.

So apparently, according to Woj, the crux of the matter here is that the Nets don’t want to give Kyrie a long term extension, but he wants the full max. I think the Nets will ultimately cave and give him what he wants because he’s a great player and it’s a player-driven league.

But you can’t deny that his relationship with the Nets organization is not in good shape. There is clearly some mutual distrust there and possibly even some animosity. The question is whether the relationship is merely strained, or broken.

Making matters worse for Brooklyn is the other story from yesterday: that Kevin Durant would reportedly demand a trade if the Nets don’t give Kyrie a long term deal. Woj called it “the sum of the franchise’s deepest fears.”

So now the Nets are in an even worse position: do they risk losing both KD and Kyrie by calling Kyrie’s bluff? Or do they back down and give Kyrie the long term extension, and keep the roster intact?

The Nets front office clearly miscalculated when they played hardball with Kyrie. He didn’t bend to their demands. And now he’s got KD on his side giving him more leverage over the Nets.

Whatever happens, it’s clearly a bad situation in Brooklyn right now when essentially the team’s two biggest stars have aligned against the front office. It’s a standoff between the two sides. Even if this whole situation ultimately results in Kyrie getting a long-term extension and KD staying put, from the outside looking in, it appears the relationship between the Nets front office and their two star players is not in great shape. And you wonder how long that can really last.

So Brooklyn, who not even a year ago had KD, Kyrie and James Harden, may in a matter of weeks have none of them. Over the past two years, the Nets have won a grand total of one playoff series, and were swept out of the first round this year. And while the vaccine situation had a lot to do with it, along with injuries, it’s hard to deny that the Nets have mismanaged this whole situation as well.

The Nets really did fumble the bag, I think.

I keep going back to this anytime I talk about the Nets: this is historically a poverty franchise that has not been well-run. I don’t think they know how to truly deal with superstars, and then, suddenly they have three on their hands. They screwed it up.

But it was also Kyrie and KD who screwed up in hitching their wagons to the Brooklyn Nets organization: this is not the Golden State Warriors, or the San Antonio Spurs, or the Miami Heat. This is not one of the league’s best-run franchises. It’s not a franchise that has consistently won at a high level over its history. They don’t typically have superstars in their prime on the roster. This is all new to them.

The Nets really screwed this up before the 2021 season when they fired Kenny Atkinson (because KD and Kyrie wanted him gone) and hired Steve Nash, who had no prior head coaching experience but was preferred by KD and Kyrie because of his ability to relate to the players and, essentially, the fact that KD and Kyrie could largely be calling the shots.

The Nets took a submissive and acquiescent posture towards their superstars at the start, but now they’re trying to be firm and authoritative with them. That’s not going to work. You can’t just pivot to being a Pat Riley-style “dictator” on a whim after you’ve been a doormat for the past year-plus.

Perhaps it was doomed to fail from the beginning.

Now I had been thinking a bit for the past few days, and it occurred to me that all of Kyrie’s comments about LeBron— the way he was essentially saying he regretted how his exit from Cleveland went down, and made it seem like he was trying to open the door to a reunion—could be interpreted as an underhanded shot at Kevin Durant.

And Kyrie may have some reason to possibly be frustrated with Durant—Durant did not play well in the Boston series. He was bad. It was one of the worst playoff series we’ve ever seen him play. So I thought it was possible that Kyrie was making all those comments about LeBron as a way to sort of initiate the “break up” with KD.

But now I don’t think that’s the case. The whole story about KD potentially demanding a trade if the Nets don’t give Kyrie a long term extension—that’s not something KD would do if he and Kyrie’s relationship was on the rocks.

Right?

Well, maybe it could just be that if the Nets don’t extend Kyrie, KD doesn’t like his chances with that Brooklyn roster (basically himself, Seth Curry and Ben Simmons, and who knows if Ben Simmons will ever play again honestly). It wouldn’t make much sense for KD to stick around in Brooklyn if he no longer has Kyrie with him. He’s 34 and that’s not a championship roster at all.

So maybe his threat of a trade request if Kyrie isn’t extended isn’t so much a way to give Kyrie more leverage, but instead him just being honest: “Look, if Kyrie is gone and it’s just me here with Ben Simmons, sorry but I’m not doing that.”

That would also make sense: if Kyrie is traded or leaves, then that’s also the end of the KD era in Brooklyn. After all, it was Kyrie who convinced KD to come to Brooklyn. The whole Brooklyn thing was Kyrie’s idea as I understand it.

It’s like if you’re out drinking at a bar with your buddy, and then he invites one of his friends to come join, but you don’t know the guy, and your buddy leaves. You (and the friend of the friend) probably aren’t sticking around and hanging out, just the two of you; you don’t know each other. It would be awkward.

That’s kind of how I see KD’s relationship with the Nets: he’s only there because of Kyrie. If and when Kyrie either leaves the Nets or has a falling out with the front office, there’s really not a whole lot keeping Kevin Durant tied to Brooklyn (other than his contract, of course, which runs through 2026, his age 37 season). But we all know superstars can be traded anytime, so the contract is not really something that limits KD’s mobility and leverage. If he demands a trade, he’ll get what he wants.

Personally, I think it’s a mixture of both: I’m sure KD, at this stage of his career, doesn’t want to go to a new team. And I’m sure he wants to be supportive of his friend Kyrie and have Kyrie’s back. But I do also think there’s an element of realism here: if the Nets can’t work out a deal with Kyrie, and Kyrie’s gone, then KD does not want to stick around in Brooklyn for a rebuilding process at age 34.

As I see the situation right now, the Nets have two options:

  1. Bite the bullet: Acquiesce to Kyrie’s demands and give him the max extension that he wants. He’s an elite offensive player in this league and the vaccine isn’t likely to be an issue going forward.
  2. Refuse to give Kyrie the long term extension, and give him an ultimatum: short term deal or nothing. After all, he has said many times that he loves it in Brooklyn and wants to stay there. It’s possible Kyrie would grudgingly accept it, but I think that’s doubtful.
    1. If Kyrie refuses to budge, and won’t take the short-term contract, then he and the Nets will have to go their separate ways. And in this case, the Nets would be in a situation where by refusing to give Kyrie a long term deal, they’re calling KD’s bluff.
    2. At that point, the Nets will have a very short window to convince KD that they can and will build a championship roster around him, and that it’s actually a good thing that Kyrie is no longer with the team. That seems like a tall order given KD and Kyrie’s close friendship, although Colin Cowherd has been saying for a while that KD secretly wants the Nets to move off of Kyrie but just doesn’t have the confrontational personality to outright demand it or vocalize it.
    3. If the Nets cannot convince KD to stay in Brooklyn without Kyrie, then they’ll have to trade him.

Those are the possible scenarios as I see it. I still think the most likely scenario is that the Nets cave and give Kyrie the long-term extension he wants. When push comes to shove, I don’t think the Nets are going to risk a situation where both their superstars are alienated to the point where they demand out.

But then again, the Nets could look at what happened this year in the first round and say, “This KD-Kyrie pairing just isn’t working. Screw it. Let’s blow it up, trade them both and start building anew.”

I doubt this would actually happen, just because teams don’t typically decide to enter a full rebuild when they have a player of KD’s caliber still in his prime, but the choice for the Nets is not that simple: the question for them is, are they so firm on not wanting to give Kyrie a long-term extension that they’d risk losing KD and blowing this entire team up over it?

I don’t think so. But we’ll see.


Earlier this week, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reported that Bradley Beal, in a surprise move, will not be signing a long-term max extension with the Wizards, and will instead be opting out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent, effective at the end of this month. However, while many interpreted this as a sign that Beal is definitely leaving the Wizards, there’s still a chance he stays:

Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal will decline his $36.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season and enter unrestricted free agency this summer, a league source told HoopsHype.

This is simple math. Beal’s projected max salary as a free agent: $43 million. That’s significantly less than his $36,422,136 player-option salary.

Even if Beal wants to stay in Washington on a contract with one year remaining, he’s better off opting out and re-signing for a raise.

Of course, Beal can secure a multi-year payday off that $43 million starting salary – up to a projected $248 million over five years with the Wizards or $235 million over four years elsewhere.

Beal has repeatedly said he’s leaning toward staying with the Wizards. Though he has left the door open for leaving, publicly announcing before free agency even opens that he knows his plan then bolting would be a shocking heel turn. Most indicators point to Beal staying in Washington.

I’m not sure if the numbers here are correct: $235 million over four years is an average of about $59 million a year, while $248 over five years is an average of $49.6 million a year. He’d be foolish to take the five year contract when the four year pays significantly more. So I don’t think the numbers in this article are correct. Typically it’s only the player’s current team (which has Bird Rights) that can offer him the full five year supermax, while if he signs with a new team he can only get the 4 year deal and less money. Usually if you leave instead of signing a supermax with your current team, you have to sacrifice a good deal of money to do so.

I wasn’t able to find the accurate figures, but just know that it’s unlikely the 4 year deal comes in at $235 million. I don’t think that’s the case.

At any rate, the real substance of the matter here is this: is it about money for Bradley Beal, or is it about winning? Because if it’s about money, he’ll just stay in Washington and take the max (and perhaps force his way out with a trade in a year or so if he’s unhappy.

But if it’s about winning, then I could definitely see him hitting the free agency market and exploring his options. I know Portland would be interested in pairing him with Dame (along with Jerami Grant, who the Blazers just acquired last night). Portland has cap space, I think, although I don’t know how much the Jerami Grant deal affects that.

The Spurs, I believe, also have cap space to offer Beal a max, as do the Pistons and Magic. I’m not sure how appealing those options are to Beal given that they’d seem like a lateral move from mediocre Washington to mediocre San Antonio (and terrible Detroit/Orlando).

What would seem more likely–if Beal does intend to leave Washington–is a sign-and-trade scenario, where Beal could go to a good team that he has interest in like, say, the Boston Celtics. Beal’s friendship with Jayson Tatum (they’re from the same hometown) is well-documented, and there have been rumblings over the past few years that when Beal eventually hits the free agent market, he’s going to try to team up with Tatum somehow.

This would only be possible via trade or sign-and-trade, although I don’t know who exactly the Celtics would be giving up in a Beal trade. Presumably Jaylen Brown, because he plays the same position as Beal does, and some other pieces.

The Celtics are listed as the favorites to land Beal right now, but the whole situation is fluid and Beal still hasn’t officially opted out of his deal. And it’s worth noting that when the news about Beal opting out of his deal broke, he had this to say on Twitter:

It seems like he’s saying, “You didn’t hear that from me, did you?” He didn’t outright refute the report that he’s opting out, but he also appeared to cast some doubt on it.

There are also rumors that the Heat will make an aggressive play for Beal as well, although they’d have to go the sign-and-trade route like Boston.

We’ll see how it all shakes out.

The NBA Draft is tonight, and we could see some blockbuster trades start taking shape during the whole process. But who knows?

As for the Draft picks themselves, I’m not going to make any predictions because it’s kind of worthless at this point. Once the draft is complete, I’ll give some analysis on which players and picks and fits I like.

But just right now, off the top of my head, I like: Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren (although of course I’m worried about how skinny he is and the potential for him to get pushed around). I like Johnny Davis of Wisconsin, and I like Nikola Jovic (not to be confused with the 2x MVP Nikola Jokic!). He’s a 6-11 small forward from Serbia–although he’s not great on defense.

There’s a lot of other players I like, but we’ll just have to see where they land. That’s such a crucial factor in all of this.

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