Kyrie Irving trade demand offers league rivals hope that Kevin Durant could become available

Well, the Friday before the NBA trade deadline is notoriously full of hooey, and Kyrie Irving requesting a trade from the Brooklyn Nets certainly qualifies. The eight-time All-Star point guard, who is in the final season of a four-year, $136 million contract, informed Brooklyn he wishes to be traded ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET buzzer, league sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports, after Irving and Brooklyn were unable to come to terms on an extension. The Athletic was first to report his request to be traded and that Irving has communicated plans to depart the franchise when he reaches free agency if he is not dealt before the deadline.

The potential for a domino of this magnitude, falling so close to Thursday’s deadline, has been one factor NBA executives credited for the lack of substantive trade activity around the league thus far. A shoe can always drop. That’s not to say rival teams were bracing for the latest firework from Irving. This news will surely force front offices across the NBA to regroup ahead of next week’s flurry of negotiations. But opposing executives have been waiting, more so hoping, for the footing to weaken in Brooklyn ever since Kevin Durant requested a trade from the franchise last June — and even after Durant rescinded his request before the season — for the idea that some chain of events could push Durant to seek a change of scenery once again.

Could Irving’s demand lead Durant to be next? That is certainly a question for any team looking to go big-game hunting ahead of the deadline. For over a month, sources told Yahoo Sports, the Toronto Raptors have told rival teams they will wait until the final hours before deciding whether to become buyers or sellers in this trade market. Why would Masai Ujiri’s front office part with O.G. Anunoby or Fred VanVleet if the MVP candidate, with three-plus seasons left on his contract, were to become available?

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 06: Kevin Durant #7 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets react during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on January 06, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving haven't exactly had uneventful times in Brooklyn. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) (Jonathan Bachman via Getty Images)

The Nets responded to Durant’s trade demands this offseason by essentially calling his bluff. Brooklyn went out and traded a first-round pick for Royce O’Neale, re-signed Nic Claxton and added T.J. Warren with the idea of building a ready-made championship contender — in addition to Irving and the Nets’ other returning pieces such as Ben Simmons and Seth Curry. Brooklyn could very easily do the same with Irving’s demand. The Nets remain committed to competing for the title, and Irving choosing to sit the remainder of this season if he’s not moved wouldn’t exactly ease other teams’ concerns about his reliability.

Nets officials have shown wavering patience to stay in business with the All-Star point guard throughout the past two seasons, sources told Yahoo Sports, and that has been evidenced by Brooklyn’s unwillingness to extend Irving the four-year maximum contract extension he has coveted.

Irving was seeking a new agreement with Brooklyn in the days prior to requesting a trade, sources said. Dating back to last summer, however, the Nets preferred short-term deals with Irving, sources said, that feature criteria for guaranteed salary. And there is healthy skepticism that more than a few teams around the NBA would have the appetite to offer Irving the lengthy contract he desires without any additional stipulations.

Irving pushed for a players strike instead of convening for play in the Orlando bubble in 2020. His refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccination for the 2021-22 campaign, in compliance with New York’s ordinance, forced Irving to sit Nets home games until that mandate was lifted, and Irving’s inconsistent presence in Brooklyn’s lineup helped influence fellow All-Star James Harden to request his own trade from the franchise. Irving was then suspended indefinitely in November, missing eight games, after sharing a documentary pushing antisemitic rhetoric and failing to originally show accountability for those actions.

And still, because of all his talent and flare — which led to Irving being voted as an All-Star starter for this year’s event — the Lakers will certainly call on what it will take to land Irving in Los Angeles, especially as LeBron James has been a known advocate of his former Cleveland teammate. Rob Pelinka’s front office has continued dialogue with rival teams about trading Russell Westbrook, most notably conversations with the Jazz as reported by Bleacher Report. Charlotte, with guard Terry Rozier, remains another possible trade partner for Westbrook, sources said.

The Lakers have resisted the idea of including their two remaining first-round picks to move on from Westbrook, sources told Yahoo Sports, but Brooklyn personnel showed little interest in June for swapping Irving and Westbrook without those Lakers selections unprotected in 2027 and 2029 — albeit there were no substantive conversations between the two teams. That was before Irving picked up his 2022-23 player option and the point guard searched for sign-and-trade opportunities away from the Nets, with limited regard from around the league.

Phoenix may be the most legitimate destination for Irving, provided Durant remains off the market, because the Suns have draft capital, young talent and could even help Brooklyn pair Chris Paul, plus Jae Crowder, with Durant should Phoenix have the appetite to move their own former All-Star ballhandler. The Suns have indeed been mentioned by league personnel as a potential landing spot for Irving, plus they have registered interest in various point guards who could serve as a Paul backup now, and then later a replacement for the future Hall of Famer. Another relevant data point: Brooklyn did not show much interest in Deandre Ayton last summer, sources said, when a sign-and-trade for the free agent center could have been a vehicle for the Suns to acquire Durant.

The idea of Miami trading veteran floor general Kyle Lowry for Irving has been discussed in league circles since December, while Lowry’s performance has declined in the second season of a three-year contract, and league personnel are certainly under the impression the Heat would move Lowry if the right deal presented itself. But it would seem unlikely that Brooklyn, with its designs on contending, would happily take back Lowry in exchange for Irving.

The Mavericks have designs on finding a second star to pair with All-NBA centerpiece Luka Doncic, sources said, and Dallas seems set on proactively engaging other teams until the Mavs attain a player of that caliber. Head coach Jason Kidd has been considered a proponent of adding Irving, sources said. The Los Angeles Clippers have been monitoring possible additions of Lowry, VanVleet and Mike Conley, sources said, and may have a collection of veteran contributors who could strike Brooklyn’s interest, albeit a dearth of future draft capital.

Then again, Irving’s market will have a slim, 7-foot shadow casting a pall over proceedings before any deal framework becomes more than a concept. Miami and Phoenix, after all, were seen as two franchises, in addition to Toronto and Boston, that were eying Durant over the offseason, sources said. Durant has always been the Nets All-Star opposing executives have hoped will become available before this deadline. They will keep their fingers crossed until the deadline sounds, because there is never telling which direction this Brooklyn ride will turn.