The Brooklyn Nets had one – 31st overall, which originally belonged to the New York Knicks – but ended Thursday’s NBA Draft with that and the 56th pick, though, they once had multiple first-round draft choices this summer.
Earlier this month, the Nets traded two first-round picks to rid themselves of Allen Crabbe’s lofty $18.5 million salary for 2019-2020. In return, the Nets acquired Taurean Prince from the Atlanta Hawks, who is scheduled to make $3.5 million next season.
Brooklyn entered June with the 19th, 27th and 31st overall picks in this year’s draft. Number 19 was one of two firsts that left in the Crabbe/Prince swap – the other was a future first – and on draft night, the Nets sent 27th overall to the Los Angeles Clippers for the 56th pick and a first-rounder in 2020.
With the 31st pick, Brooklyn drafted University of Georgia center Nic Claxton, and at 56 they selected Jaylen Hands from UCLA, both of whom left after their sophomore season and will play on non-guaranteed deals, giving the Nets $68 million in cap space for free agency, which begins June 30 at 6 p.m.
The Nets are looking to acquire big free agents this summer, even seemingly at the cost of one of their own in D’Angelo Russell.
Brooklyn is eyeing a pairing of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, even though Durant has a torn Achilles, will likely be out for the entire 2019-20 season, and will be 32 years old upon his expected return.
Irving was at the forefront of the Boston Celtics underachieving 2018-19 season, leading Eastern Conference championship favorites to the semifinals, where they were bounced by the Milwaukee Bucks in five games.
Russell has a $21 million cap hold and is a restricted free agent, so in theory, the Nets would control him until at least July 6, when deals become official. But the team could also retain him if the expected pairing of Brooklyn and Irving – a New Jersey native and childhood Net fan – doesn’t materialize.
But league-wide indication suggests that the Nets and Irving are all but expected to agree to terms, even though given Irving’s history it directly opposes what the Nets have preached in terms of organizational culture, accountability, and other buzzwords that suggest a sense of direction.
Irving – talented as he is – doesn’t have the history to suggest he’s a perfect fit. In fact, the exact opposite could be argued, with stories of his discontent in Cleveland leading to him requesting a trade, and his failed leadership in Boston after returning to a team who reached the conference finals a year earlier while he was injured.
Irving is a bonafide star, though, and an NBA champion, winning in 2016 as the Robin to LeBron James’ Batman. Multiple reports and theories suggest that Durant may want Irving as a running buddy, though the two wouldn’t actually join forces for a year.
Russell has done all of what Brooklyn has asked, adapted to their culture, and grew up in his two years with the team. Russell joined the Nets two years ago via trade from the Los Angeles Lakers at 21, whereas Irving is a fully formed 27-year-old polarizing point guard in his prime.
Is Irving several million dollars better than Russell? Does his supreme level of talent and stardom outweigh the several red flags? Will the move to Brooklyn change him?
Could the currently 23-year-old Russell’s outlook be even more enticing than Irving’s current stature? Is now the right time to star chase?
These are all questions Brooklyn has and will continue to weigh within the next several days as the NBA’s biggest summer in nine years rages on.