What Kyrie Irving standoff with Nets means for Celtics offseason possibilities

Kyrie Irving’s marriage to the Brooklyn Nets may not last much longer than his time with the Boston Celtics. Irving and his camp have reached an impasse in talks with the Nets over his future, according to a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Irving has a $36.9 million player option for the 2022-23 season and a June 29 deadline to exercise it. Irving signaled earlier this offseason that he had nowhere to go after the first-round loss to the Celtics, but Sean Marks hinted in his end-of-season press conference that he was hesitant to offer Irving a lucrative extension that would see the All-Star is probably looking.

“I think that’s something that we’ve discussed and will continue to debrief and discuss in the offseason,” Marks said of Irving’s future last month. “Honestly, it’s not just Kyrie. We have to make decisions about a variety of free agents in our roster.”

Marks later continued, “I think we know what we’re looking for in terms of people to come in here and want to be a part of something bigger. Play basketball and team basketball selflessly and be available. Not just for Kyrie, but for everyone here.”

Irving only played 93 games in his first off seasons with the franchise, and it’s now apparent that Brooklyn would rather continue than make another long-term investment in the point guard.

What exactly does this potential split mean from the Celtics’ perspective? Let’s take a closer look at Brooklyn’s options if they want to pull away from Irving and the potential impact on Boston.

The Nets won’t have much room to maneuver if Kyrie Irving leaves

Brooklyn has already occupied most of its cap room with big deals for Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons and Joe Harris, among others. They also have 10 current free agents on the team’s roster, including Irving. Simply letting Irving go freelance wouldn’t be a way to use his $37 million salary elsewhere. The Nets wouldn’t have much room to maneuver in this scenario unless they decided to forego all of their best other free agents or find a team that would pick up a big deal (Harris or Simmons) without paying a lot of money back. It’s a situation the Celtics dealt with firsthand in 2019 when Irving spurned them for Brooklyn.

Nets’ sign-and-trade options are limited at Irving

Another piece of good news from the Celtics’ standpoint on this front is Brooklyn’s cap situation. The team has already passed the hard cap if Irving decides on his deal. So if they want to trade him, their options are limited to players who are currently signed. A sign-and-trade scenario where the Nets land a free agent for Irving would likely be a non-starter as it would trigger a hard cap for the Nets. Given the team’s other financial commitments for next year, that would prevent them from assembling a well-rounded contender.

Instead, the Nets would likely be forced to settle for a variety of expensive contracts from teams with potential interest (Knicks, Lakers, Clippers) that would meet the pay-match trade rules. That would be far better than no potential return for the Nets, but would certainly be a talent downgrade and would also impact spending flexibility going forward. Once again, this should be good news for the Celtics in their hopes of retaining a key contender.

The Nets are less of a threat to a free-agent contender for Boston compared to last offseason if Irving leaves

Brooklyn landed a coveted free agent (Patty Mills) for the mid-level exception this past offseason and snagged a slew of veterans for minimum contracts (LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap). Most of those players haven’t worked well for Boston, but a possible divorce between Irving and the Nets could change the hierarchy in the Eastern Conference when it comes to attractive targets.

With Irving leaving the Nets with no star return, the Celtics suddenly look like a potentially more attractive target for useful veterans looking for a ring shot. There will be plenty of worshipers for these types of players in a loaded East, but Boston’s core along with Ime Udoka should be able to now convincingly argue that they are a better target for victory than their New York rivals. This isn’t a pitch they could realistically make a year ago.

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