Kyrie Irving to sign up


Kyrie Irving to sign up

What’s next for the Brooklyn Nets after Kyrie Irving decided to exercise his player option to return for the 2022-23 season rather than potentially leaving Brooklyn via free agency this summer?

Though the Nets no longer have their most important potential free agent to worry about, there is still work to be done when the NBA free agency opens at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Five of the eight other Brooklyn players who saw at least 10 minutes of action in the team’s first round against the Boston Celtics can become free agents, including starters Bruce Brown and Andre Drummond.

How can the Nets, who also need to integrate newcomer Ben Simmons following his addition at the close of trade, improve on last year’s team who struggled through the play-in tournament only to be swept by the Celtics?

And what options does Brooklyn have with Irving now that he enters the final season of his contract, signed in the summer of 2019? Let’s break things down for Brooklyn.

Kyrie is in – now what for the Nets?

Brooklyn will now have seven players under contract before Wednesday’s option deadline when both the team and another guard have decisions to make. The Nets have a choice of second-year forward Kessler Edwards, who would pay minimum salary if his option is exercised after Brooklyn replaced his two-way contract with a full NBA deal at the end of last regular season.

Meanwhile, Patty Mills has to settle for a $6.2 million player option after signing a two-year deal with the Nets last summer. Whether Mills exercises his option shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a sign of his interest in returning. Brooklyn offered Mills the biggest possible money last summer using the taxpayer midlevel exemption, but he could give him a 20 percent raise this year using non-bird rights if he becomes a free agent.

Brown will be an unrestricted free agent, having signed for his qualifying bid last summer when he was restricted. After his role fluctuated during the first half of the season, Brown blossomed after the All-Star break, averaging 14.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists while making 47% of his 3-point attempts – previously no strength. Given that Simmons reflects some of Brown’s defensive strengths and past weaknesses as an off-ball shooter, it will be interesting to see just how much the Nets are keen on re-signing Brown.

All four veteran Brooklyn centers will be free agents. Drummond, who started after being included in the deal that put Simmons in the Nets, is unreserved. Brooklyn would have to use the mid-level taxpayer exemption to offer Drummond more than 120% of his minimum non-bird rights salary. Drummond preceded buyout pickups LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, whose value is declining at ages 37 (Aldridge, early in camp) and 33 (Griffin). The networks would probably be better served with younger options at these points.

Those options include Nic Claxton, a restricted free agent aged 23 after three years in the league. Claxton was coach Steve Nash’s top pick at center off the bench in the playoffs, averaging 10.5 points on 79% shooting and 6.3 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game. Claxton’s ability to anchor a Switch-heavy defense could make him a desirable player, forcing Brooklyn to give him a sizeable raise after Claxton made the minimum on a deal signed as a second-round pick.

Finally, veteran guard Goran Dragic will be an unrestricted free agent after buying out to the Nets in February. Dragic has played well in the playoffs, but he may not play as big a role in next year’s team with Simmons (back) and Joe Harris (ankle) returning from injuries.

Networks have limited room for improvement

Despite all the free agents, Irving’s option will see Brooklyn surpass the projected luxury tax threshold for 2022-23 and enter free agency. That limits the Nets to using their $6.4 million taxpayer midlevel exemption to add outside free agents — if they choose not to use them to re-sign Drummond.

After Brooklyn added guard insurance with Mills last summer, it would be wise to target mid-level 3D roleplayers this time. LA Clippers’ Nicolas Batum and Golden State Warriors’ Otto Porter Jr. would be ideal candidates who can complement Kevin Durant and Irving with their shooting, decision-making and defensive variety.

Indiana Pacers’ TJ Warren is another interesting option if the Nets are confident he will be healthy after missing all but four games in the past two seasons due to recurring stress fractures in his left foot.

Surely Brooklyn will explore the merchant market as well. If Mills returns, the Nets could look to trade with an excess of quality shooters on the rim after adding Seth Curry to Harris, Irving and Mills in the Simmons trade. But Harris’ value is likely at a low point after ankle surgery ended his 2021-22 campaign in November, while Curry’s value salary ($8.5 million) would make it difficult to find a quality player in a position that is in the in return has more need.

Perpetuating all of these Brooklyn front office decisions is whether the owners are ready to sign another massive tax bill. It was one thing for the Nets to steer deep last summer when they were favorites to win the championship. After an early exit from the playoffs, Brooklyn may have to justify how much extra salary can lead to a deep playoff run this time.

Why a trade for Irving is still possible

By exercising his player option, Irving eliminates the Nets’ most vexing scenario: the possibility of him moving to another team through free agency without them receiving anything in return.

However, there are still plenty of ways Irving and Brooklyn’s relationship could play out over the next year.

Irving could continue working towards a comfortable long-term deal with the Nets. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes, Irving is eligible for an extension until June 30, 2023 as a player in the final year of his contract. It’s possible the two sides will resume negotiations mid-season if Irving is healthy and productive.

Alternatively, Brooklyn could still trade him. In a way, Irving exercising his option is making a trade Easier than trying to find a mutually acceptable sign-and-trade deal if he became a free agent. Sign-and-trade restrictions would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Irving to be sold as a free agent to a tax-paying team like the Los Angeles Lakers.

In a worst-case scenario, where the Nets are poised to fully exit Irving by midseason, his expiring contract could allow them to take longer-term deals back from a team looking to create pay flexibility. For example, Brooklyn could send Irving to the Charlotte Hornets for Gordon Hayward, a move that would reduce the Nets’ tax burden this season but allow the Hornets to match Hayward’s $31.5 million salary in 2023-24 to brush.

Here’s the bad news for Brooklyn management on what should have been a happy day: Irving, who is exercising his player option, is not answering questions about his future with the Nets; it only pushes them back a year — if that.

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