• Erik Slater

Brooklyn's huge offseason may begin with Kyrie Irving

Summer is almost here, and with the NBA rumor mill in full force, the Brooklyn Nets are in the center of things.

The narrative for the 2019 offseason has been that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are destined to team up in New York and bring the Knicks back to glory.

However, following a winning season and playoff appearance for the first time in three years, the Nets have slowly crept into the conversation. Brooklyn’s gritty style of play and solid core of young players, along with the allure of New York City, has many pointing to the Nets as a top free agent destination.

With Brooklyn expected to go big-game hunting, general manager Sean Marks will be faced will several tough decisions, the most important being how he will handle D’Angelo Russell‘s restricted free agency.

The Nets will pursue both Irving and Durant this summer and, despite the constant speculation, the pair is by no means a lock to team up this offseason.

Irving, a ball-dominant guard who forced his way out of LeBron James‘ shadow, and Durant, the top player in the league, may not be a match made in heaven.

Both Durant and Irving will reportedly consider the Nets this summer. The stronger interest has come from Irving’s camp, who are reportedly urging the guard to seriously consider Brooklyn. Irving, a native of South Orange, N.J., grew up a Nets fan during the Jason Kidd era.

FS1 analyst Ric Bucher, while appearing on The Herd with Colin Cowherd Tuesday, said the Nets are the favorites to land Irving :

“The latest I’ve heard is that it’s between Brooklyn and the Lakers,” Bucher said. “Everything that I’ve heard, I would still expect that Kyrie is going to go to Brooklyn. That’s the odds on favorite.”

Durant will be the primary target and if he demands that Irving come with him, the Nets wouldn’t hesitate to sign the duo. A Durant-Irving signing would likely push Russell out the door, but it would be difficult to envision Brooklyn letting Russell go in any situation short of this.

Recently, a report has surfaced that some within Barclays Center feel Russell and Irving could coexist in the backcourt. If they can’t land Durant, the Nets may see Irving as a great consolation prize alongside Russell.

An Irving-Russell pairing would provide one of the flashiest backcourts in the league. However, signing Irving carries several concerns.

Russell and Irving are both ball-dominant point guards, posting top-20 usage rates last season. Neither is used to playing off the ball.

Russell excelled in the pick-and-roll last season. The point guard initiated the second-most pick-and-rolls in the league, nearly double the amount of Irving. Russell carved up opposing defenses with his mid-range game and passing ability.

While Irving operated in the pick-and-roll significantly less than Russell, he was able to penetrate defenses using his tight handle and quickness, getting to the rim far more frequently.

It could be difficult to get the most out of Russell and Irving with one playing off the ball. Both employ a different style of play offensively, could the Nets find an efficient balance that would warrant committing a huge chunk of money to the duo long term?

Portland found a successful balance with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the backcourt this season. Head coach Kenny Atkinson could look to move away from the pick-and-roll to give Irving freedom offensively.

Another concern that comes with an Irving-Russell pairing is the pressing need at power forward. Do the Nets want to use their cap space on two point guards, who both struggle defensively, rather than address their glaring need in the frontcourt?

Tobias Harris has been linked to the Nets since the beginning of the season and could be the stretch 4 Brooklyn has desperately needed. A combination of Harris and either Irving or Russell may be a more efficient combination than the two guards together.

Brooklyn has been a rumored trade partner for the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. FS1 analyst Chris Broussard detailed the Nets’ interest in Davis on The Herd earlier this month:

“Their dream is to pair AD with Kyrie. They really only want to try to get AD if they got Kyrie because that will help them keep AD. If they can get Kyrie to agree, I’ll go to Brooklyn if you get AD, then Brooklyn makes that kind of offer for Anthony Davis and they try to pair those two.”

An Irving signing would come with a plan to quickly bring in another star of Brooklyn’s choice. Davis would be a dream fit in Brooklyn’s 3-point, pick-and-roll oriented system.

The Nets have a familiar face in the Pelicans’ front office with former assistant general manager Trajan Langdon now the GM in New Orleans.

While this is all speculation and nothing is set in stone until the summer, the fact that Brooklyn is a preferred destination for superstars is a huge step forward. The next step for general manager Sean Marks is selling free agents on his plan.

For the first time in years, Brooklyn is a hot topic in NBA free agency. A young core, cap space and huge market have given the Nets an opportunity to transform themselves into a contending team as soon as next season.

How many around the association would have believed that a year ago?