According to SNY's Ian Begley, several opposing executives believe Brooklyn wouldn't let go of two first-round picks if it didn't believe it had a strong chance to land a high-profile free agent.
The Nets parted with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft and a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2020 to ship Allen Crabbe's $18 million contract to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday in exchange for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-rounder.
By moving Crabbe, the Nets gave themselves the ability to sign at least one or possibly two max free agents during the offseason, provided they do not re-sign restricted free agent D'Angelo Russell.
An opposing assistant general manager told Begley that the Nets are "all in" following the Crabbe trade.
Irving has long been viewed as a candidate to sign with the New York Knicks and potentially join Kevin Durant in doing so. While sources indicated to SNY that Irving has yet to rule out any suitors, the probability is "low" that he will re-sign with the Celtics.
On Tuesday's episode of ESPN's First Take, Stephen A. Smith said Kyrie has given "every indication" that he prefers the Nets over the Knicks:
While the Nets technically could sign Irving and re-sign Russell, it seems unlikely since they are both ball-dominant scorers who are at their best when controlling the offensive flow.
Last season, Irving was named an All-Star for the sixth time in his career, averaging 23.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, Russell was named an All-Star for the first time en route to averaging 21.1 points, 7.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game and shooting 43.4 percent from the floor and 36.9 percent from long range.
Irving had the better year and has a better body of work with three NBA Finals appearances and one championship to his credit, but he is 27 years old, and Russell is just 23.
There are also some question marks about Irving's leadership skills after the Celtics disappointed this season and were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. ESPN.com's Jackie MacMullan reported that Irving's teammates were "treading lightly" at times this season due to his "mood swings."
The Nets are coming off their best season since 2013-14, with a 42-40 record and playoff berth. Signing Irving would be a move designed to take the next step, but Brooklyn may need to pair him with another star to make that happen since the upgrade of Kyrie over Russell alone may not be enough to push Brooklyn into contention.