With free agency starting in a little over a month, the Brooklyn Nets find themselves in the conversation for some of the top-tier free agents, namely Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
Sources tell SNY that Kyrie Irving and his camp are strongly considering Brooklyn if he decides to leave Boston. Irving's camp has kept a close eye on the Nets as the season progressed and the team got better, with the playoffs only helping their case.
SNY also learned recently that the Nets would not shy away from signing Irving even if they re-sign point guard D'Angelo Russell. The ideal scenario would be to pair two max free agents, such as Kevin Durant and Irving, but sources say the Nets would be open to pairing Irving and Russell in the backcourt together.
Irving, 27, grew up a Nets fan and is intrigued by what they've built. During an NBA TV discussion in February, former Cavaliers GM David Griffin argued that Brooklyn is the "Fit that's better for him in terms of his mindset." He later added, "I think he likes what they've done there, culturally."
Russell, 23, will become a restricted free agent this upcoming summer. However, reports indicate the Nets would like to strike a deal before he hits the market. Russell became an All-Star and is currently a candidate for the Most Improved Player award after averaging a career-high 21 points and seven assists per game.
The Nets think very highly of Russell. Between his development on and off the court and his desire to be great, the Nets would like him to be a part of their future going forward.
"Without D'Angelo, the Nets don't make the jump they made," one league source said.
Since taking over as general manager in 2016, Sean Marks' mantra has been about getting the best possible talent and letting head coach Kenny Atkinson sort it out. The Nets already have three players who are more than capable of handling the ball in a prominent role, and all three are under the age of 26. The feeling, which coincides with Marks' mantra, is that the Nets can build a dominant backcourt with Irving and Russell, much like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland.
Irving and Russell already have a good relationship. The two shared the same high school coach, Kevin Boyle as Boyle coached Irving at St. Patrick's in New Jersey and Russell at Montverde Academy in Florida. The belief is that the two can work well together and having a prior relationship will only help.
The Nets aren't counting their chickens by any means. ESPN's Jackie MacMullan reports that Boston wants him back and would like an answer regarding his plans before they commit in any trade talks for Anthony Davis.
Others are very much in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes, specifically the New York Knicks, who can pair Irving and another max free agent, namely Kevin Durant, this upcoming summer. His name has also been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers, where LeBron James would welcome a reunion with his former teammate.
The Nets have options. They aren't in panic mode and they don't feel like they need to spend money on a player just for the sole purpose of making a splash. It's clear they're going big-game hunting, but they'd also like to stick to their principals about bringing in the right culture fit.
"I think this is something that if the right player is available, obviously like any other team, we'll target those guys," Marks said at the Nets' exit interviews after the season. "We'll see how this builds out. It's not about fast forwarding or skipping steps. There's a lot of people that played major roles in getting the team to where it is now, the team, the organization, the identity - for us to even have these conversations. That's exciting."
Russell has already shown what he's worth to them. There's no guarantee that he'll be back but several signs indicate that it's very likely. They love everything about him and feel he's a great culture fit.
But how about Irving? There are certainly questions about whether he fits or not. If he decides to leave Boston, he'll be joining his third team in four years. He had issues playing with younger players, particularly this past season. Furthermore, he has an injury history that may deter teams from committing to him long-term.
However, if the Nets were to pair Russell and Irving, they would immediately have one of the toughest backcourts in the Eastern Conference. That alone might be enough for both sides to take a chance on one another.