Things were quickly heated about around the NBA on the day of the free agency period opening up, as Kevin Durant took a gallon of gasoline, doused the entire league with it, and then lit and threw a match onto it from a safe distance to watch the chaos ensue. His goal by doing so — through the form of a trade request — was to get to a different team than the Brooklyn Nets. The Los Angeles Lakers — one of the teams that best thrives in chaos — immediately sprung back into trade talks with the Nets for their other superstar who doesn’t seem to want to be there anymore in Kyrie Irving.
Although the Nets were not willing to take on Russell Westbrook and his $47 million contract in discussions before Kyrie opted into the final year of his contract and before Durant set the league ablaze, they quickly seemed ready to do so after that monumental trade request so that they could get all the assets they could for the massive headache these two had created for them.
After Durant’s trade request on June 30th, our first details of negotiations were given to us via a report from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes three days later. He noted the two parties were “actively engaged” on a package with “palpable optimism” that the two could find an agreement this offseason despite “a few hurdles” currently existing. Those hurdles, according to Haynes, seemed to surround the following:
- What draft compensation the Lakers would be including.
- The Nets want Joe Harris (along with his left ankle surgery that has kept him out for some time) and his $38.6 million salary over two years in the deal.
- The Lakers are “disinclined” to take on Harris according to Haynes, and instead want Seth Curry.
Haynes also reported, after his initial report had already been released, that the Nets themselves “maintain discussions have only been preliminary at this point”.
Brooklyn Nets maintain discussions have only been preliminary at this point, sources say. https://t.co/nKKTFGiMj2
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 3, 2022
If Durant started a fiery blaze with his trade request that created a large, yet somewhat less intense side fire nearby with the Kyrie Irving trade discussions, the above was the Nets’ version of taking the fire extinguisher and diminishing that fire to the side to try and control this damage as much as they can.
That wasn’t the end of the Nets apparently trying to smother that Kyrie fire. Later that same evening, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the 76ers and Mavericks joined the Lakers in having interest in Kyrie. As Silver Screen & Roll’s Jacob Rude profiled following that report, multiple reporters with deep Philadelphia and Dallas connections quickly refuted that claim, alluding to the idea that neither of those teams were actually poking around the idea of trading for Kyrie.
Over the next few days that followed, reports came out that either continued to squash the “palpable optimism” of a Kyrie-Lakers trade being completed, or at least dismissed the idea that something would be coming soon. Below I’ve outlined those reports with my thoughts on them in sub-bullets:
- ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on July 3rd that the Lakers had yet to be “aggressive in trying to put a deal together” and that it may still come, but that there was “no traction” on any deals with Kyrie or Durant at the time.
- Obviously if the Mavs, Sixers, and no other teams are actually involved in trade discussions with the Nets, why be aggressive? Try and get Kyrie for Russ and nothing else. Extend an olive branch of two second-rounders. This is the time for Rob Pelinka and the Lakers to try and severely underpay instead of the overpay (that worked) they did for Anthony Davis. And regarding the “no traction” part, to me that is just Woj letting people know that the two sides are going back to their corners to regroup for further discussions (more on that thought in a bit).
- In addition, as Jacob Rude of Silver Screen & Roll notes here, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin has alluded to the idea that the Lakers have a “Plan B” in place if the Kyrie Irving deal falls through. In that reporting, McMenamin mentioned the Pacers’ Buddy Hield and the Rockets’ Eric Gordon. Just another reason to not be aggressive.
- On the Fourth, The New York Posts’ Brian Lewis indicated that the Nets were “putting out the vibe” that they could choose to not trade Durant, and “maybe even Irving”, instead electing to deny the two stars’ requests and bring them into the 2022-23 season’s training camp.
- This seems like an extremely foolish idea and is more than likely just posturing from the Nets. After all the drama they caused the Nets and their owner Joe Tsai, would the Nets really continue to be in the Durant-Kyrie business? The Athletic’s Joe Vardon has reported Tsai’s annoyance with this all, even going as far to say that Tsai has “had enough”.
- This type of hard-ball stance coming from the Nets brings up memories of the infamous report in 2020 that the Rockets were willing to get “uncomfortable” with James Harden and Russell Westbrook wanting to get traded (h/t Vinay Killawala), indicating they’d be fine with entering the season with them. They eventually dealt Russ to the Wizards right before the season started, but they did keep Harden a little over a month into the season while he let himself get out of shape and gave little effort, eventually leading to his trade to the Nets. People think this NY Post report is just a bluff from the Nets, but maybe they aren’t satisfied with the deals they’re receiving for Durant and they decide to tell him “Sorry, looks like you have to honor year one of four remaining on your contract and play for us.” Does that mean they’d keep Kyrie too? This seems to be the Lakers’ only threat of not being able to acquire Kyrie, and although it seems more unlikely than not, I’d be a little worried about it if I were the Lakers given the alternative seems to be keeping Russ (and possibly their “Plan B”) which… sucks.
- On Tuesday after the holiday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on The Pat McAfee Show that the same idea of “no traction” happening between the Lakers and Nets while also saying he’s “not sure we’re gonna see that take place”.
- Riiiight. Charania now seems extremely connected to the Nets’ side of things while — after his report above about Kyrie and the recent report about Thomas Bryant signing with the Lakers — Chris Haynes seems connected to the Lakers’ side of things. The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the middle of their reports.
- Also on Tuesday, Woj mentions “draft compensation” being a talking point with strong indication that talks may resume between the two parties at Las Vegas’ Summer League which is set to start on Thursday.
- So it seems like the Lakers and Nets battled each other on draft compensation, Joe Harris’ contract, and other tertiary parts of the deal before the 4th of July weekend started with both sides deciding to rest and relax before reinvigorating these conversations in Sin City. That makes sense.
- Early Wednesday morning, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that “league personnel have begun discussing the potential for Brooklyn to retain Durant—as well as Kyrie Irving—into the regular season” if the Nets never receive a package worthy of Durant’s talent and contract. He goes on to note that league sources continue to discount interest in Kyrie from Dallas and Philly. Also noted is the fact that there’s “plenty of skepticism around the NBA” that the Lakers’ acquisition of Kyrie could simply come from a two-team swap. He notes that the Nets’ “goal of contending already disqualifies a theoretical package of Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks”.
- Earlier in the piece, Fischer notes that the massive haul the Jazz received for Rudy Gobert — a player that is nowhere close to being as impactful as Durant — has sort of raised what was already a high asking price that the Nets were putting out there for Durant. They definitely won’t accept anything around or less than what the Jazz received for him and as Fischer also notes, if a team pays that heavy price for Durant, would they even still have a team capable of winning a championship around Durant?
- And then if you’re the Nets and you’re not trading Durant, why not keep Kyrie and try to compete with the newly acquired T.J. Warren and Royce O’Neal (along with Ben Simmons)? It seems as if the Nets aren’t going to get much of assets from the Lakers that can help them in the short-term or long-term that a Kyrie Irving could provide for them, even if he were to leave after one season. An underrated factor in this all is that the next few years of Nets’ picks belong to the Rockets from the Harden deal or are instead controlled via pick swaps on them. Tanking isn’t really a viable rebuilding option at this time.
- It seems as if the Gobert trade has had a domino effect that may result in the Lakers not being able to acquire Kyrie unless they overpay in regards to what their leverage is when isolating the negotiations from the Durant of it all. Sadly, you can’t separate the ramifications of the Durant negotiations from the Kyrie negotiations. It’s all connected. Now, the Nets would have to be up for the additional headaches that would come from denying Durant and Kyrie’s requests. But if they do have the stomach for that, then they do have the power in this situation given the four remaining years on Durant’s contract.
As Brian Windhorst noted today on his “The Hoop Collective” podcast, “Everything you hear is a negotiation position.” We’ll probably get more of that today and in the days that follow, especially if the Lakers’ and Nets’ front offices meet for some discussions in Las Vegas. Either way, the Lakers seem to have a decent amount of leverage on their side with no side having any incentive to get a deal done as soon as possible.
Settle in. It could be a long and fiery summer.