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Latest NBA Intel: The Divide Between Kyrie Irving and Brooklyn

Jake Fischer@@JakeLFischerContributor IJune 21, 2022

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As the June 29 deadline on Kyrie Irving's $36.9 million player option for the 2022-23 season fast approaches, the Brooklyn Nets and the All-Star guard still have ground to cover for both sides to emerge content on extension conversations, sources told B/R. The Nets naturally prefer a shorter-term, incentive-laden agreement that includes benchmarks such as games played, sources said. Irving, having missed significant time because of injuries in recent seasons, has prioritized a longer-term contract.

But the dialogue among Irving, his representation and Nets leadership is expected to be fluid in the lead-up to his decision. Both sides appear keen on holding ongoing conversations about building together in Brooklyn, where the Nets can return to the championship-contending aspirations they held entering this past campaign. Since their exit from the playoffs, Brooklyn officials have been working under the assumption that Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons will return to Barclays Center for the 2022-23 season.

In any negotiation, it's fair for a player of Irving's caliber to search for lucrative exit ramps. Word of Irving's interest in the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks has circulated among league personnel since the NBA Draft Combine in mid-May, but few team executives have given much credence to that chatter.

If Irving were to opt in for the '22-23 season with a hope of being traded to Los Angeles, Brooklyn would have little incentive to negotiate with the Lakers, who would struggle to send commensurate value back to the Nets.

There is a path for Irving to decline his option and sign with New York as an unrestricted free agent. Part of the rumblings about Irving and the Knicks' mutual interest is that head coach Tom Thibodeau is a fan of Irving. But New York would have to shed significant salary, sacrifice valuable draft capital in the process and still likely need to stretch a contract or two to free up the space to meet Irving's near $40 million wages.

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In forecasting their offseason dealings, the Knicks are said to be targeting roughly $25 million in room to be able to chase Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson, and they are expected to find new homes for Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel, among other moves. Even if New York pivoted away from Brunson, who league personnel widely believe will return to Dallas, the Knicks would have a large gap to meet Irving's contractual wishes.

The Orlando Magic have emerged as a landing spot for teams to shed future salary at the cost of future draft picks, sources said. The Magic will have upward of $30 million in cap space once free agency begins. Other room teams such as the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers could be viable options for the Knicks to offload contracts. But the Pistons and Pacers, sources said, have designs on chasing players on the restricted free-agent market and have been the lone teams linked as potential threats to sign talented forward Miles Bridges from the Charlotte Hornets.

No league figure contacted by B/R expects Irving to play for a non-Brooklyn team on a one-year deal at the mid-level exception. It appears, and has always seemed clear, that Irving's best scenario for both lucrative earnings and a championship-contending environment is with the Nets.


Hornets Coaching Search

Kenny Atkinson stunned Hornets brass with his decision to return to the Golden State Warriors coaching staff rather than proceed with Charlotte on an agreed-in-principle four-year deal. Atkinson had called Hornets staffers and players in preparation for joining the franchise ahead of this week's draft, sources told B/R, and was in the advanced stages of assembling his own additions to the staff.

Contrary to internet speculation, Atkinson's decision suggests nothing about Steve Kerr's future with Golden State, sources said. There has been no word within the Warriors that Kerr's tenure will end any time soon.

But for any new head coach, the Hornets have been intent on retaining a large portion of the staff—many of whom have one full season of guaranteed salary remaining on their deals—from previous head coach James Borrego, sources said. Before Atkinson put pen to paper on his contract, he and the Hornets were unable to come to financial agreements for his new assistants, sources said. Charlotte is known to be among the league's bottom five teams in coaching staff salary.

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Atkinson felt compelled to remain with Golden State, where he will slide up a seat on Kerr's bench following the departure of assistant coach Mike Brown to the Sacramento Kings and compete for another championship next season. Atkinson also will not have to uproot his family for the third straight season.

It's unclear where Charlotte will turn for its next head coach. Many league personnel have pointed to the team's other finalists for the position, Terry Stotts and Mike D'Antoni, as logical succession plans.

The Hornets can take their time. The Utah Jazz appear to be in no rush to expedite their own head coaching search. But no other Charlotte candidate besides Atkinson met with Hornets ownership and chairman Michael Jordan, sources said. Perhaps the Hornets will restart their process altogether.


Top of the Draft 

With the No. 1 pick Thursday night, league executives widely project Auburn forward Jabari Smith to be the Magic's choice. Among Smith and fellow top prospects Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero, Smith and his representatives have long expressed the most enthusiasm about joining the Magic, sources told B/R. Holmgren's and Banchero's camps have operated with greater desires to land elsewhere, according to league personnel familiar with both players.

While Holmgren visited Orlando, it's believed the Gonzaga product and his representatives would prefer to land with the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 2, as they view the Thunder as having a stronger infrastructure to support Holmgren's development. Holmgren has only collaborated with Orlando and Oklahoma City during predraft activity, sources said. The same goes for Smith.

Banchero is known to relish the opportunity to join the Houston Rockets at No. 3, sources said, while members of his representation are not ruling out the possibility the Duke freshman will end up with Oklahoma City. Banchero hails from Seattle and has several connections with Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who is also a Seattle native. Banchero, sources told B/R, is further encouraged by potentially forming a scoring attack alongside Rockets sophomore guard Jalen Green, selected No. 2 in the 2021 draft.

Banchero was scheduled to visit Orlando on Monday, but several figures close to the prospect remain skeptical the Magic are seriously considering him for the top pick, sources said.


Sacramento Trade Options

The Kings continue to receive plenty of trade interest for the No. 4 selection, where the Pacers, Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards and others have made efforts to leapfrog in the lottery. Of those teams, it's believed the Pacers and Spurs are targeting Iowa forward Keegan Murray, while New York and Washington have their sights set on Purdue combo guard Jaden Ivey.

Rival teams are prepared for Sacramento to gauge all trade interest up until the Kings are on the clock. If there's a surprise pick in the top three, Sacramento could receive a flurry of offers from teams that covet one of the star big men in the class.

Several teams picking behind the Kings are also preparing for Sacramento to select Murray if it remains at No. 4 and the top three picks unfold with no surprises. The Pistons, sources said, have projected a strong confidence that Ivey will be available for them to choose at No. 5 if the Kings stand pat.


More Trade Talk

  • Teams selecting behind the New Orleans Pelicans have painted them as a trade-down candidate, particularly with OKC at No. 12, if New Orleans officials' prioritized targets are not still on the board at No. 8. Rivals believe Dyson Daniels and Bennedict Mathurin are the Pelicans' top choices in that slot.
  • The Rockets' deal with the Mavericks that sent Christian Wood for the No. 26 pick cannot be completed until draft night, and there's a strong possibility Houston will look to expand the deal by trading up with the No. 17 pick or by making various other moves. There's a chance the trade won't be finalized until July 6, after the free-agency moratorium.
  • John Collins continues to be mentioned as the most likely trade candidate among impact veterans around the league, and it’s believed Collins and the Atlanta Hawks have a mutual interest to find him a new destination. Atlanta’s recent conversations with Sacramento regarding Collins have not included the No. 4 pick, sources confirmed to B/R. The Hawks and Kings held talks about Collins before the February trade deadline. Sacramento's Harrison Barnes is considered available for trade.
  • The Hornets are expected to gauge trade interest in Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee in advance of Bridges' restricted free agency.

Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.

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