The Brooklyn Nets have been pegged as a sleeper max-free agent destination for so long they’re no longer sleepers. Brooklyn has successfully rebuilt from their cataclysmic trade with the Celtics in 2012, and have both a stable of exciting young players and a well-respected front office and coach to lead them. Kyrie Irving has long been rumored as a target, given his New York roots.
On Saturday, reports surfaced the Nets were not only planning to pursue Irving, but they’d consider pairing him with D'Angelo Russell for the foreseeable future.
Russell is a restricted free agent this offseason, and is projected to get something close to a max contract. Irving, meanwhile, is presumably going to decline his player option with the Celtics and become an unrestricted free agent. The possibility of re-signing with Boston remains, but it seems very likely at this point Irving will be considering all of his options.
Landing Irving would be a huge success for the much-maligned Brooklyn franchise, but pairing him with Russell would not be. They’re both shoot-first guards who are best with the ball in their hands and lacking defensively. Russell was sixth in the league in usage percentage, while Irving ranked 16th. They’d make for an electric offensive backcourt, but their skillsets overlap to the point where it would be detrimental for both players. Not to mention the fact they’d give up as many points as they’d score.
Giving both Irving and Russell max contracts would give the team a foundation, but not a well-rounded one. In a vacuum, Irving would be an ideal mentor for Russell, but this past season in Boston showed Irving isn’t yet up to the task of leading and mentoring young players. That can always change rapidly, but his questionable leadership and similarities as a player with Russell means it just isn’t a good fit.
The two guards in Brooklyn together, from an outside perspective, seems like an unlikely scenario. Sean Marks has proven himself to be a smart general manager who knows how to construct a team in today’s game. If the Nets do land Irving, they’ll be better off looking to trade Russell, an exciting young player in his own right, for a good wing defender and shooter to round out their team. Russell isn’t a bad consolation prize himself if they whiff on Irving’s free agency. But Brooklyn can’t have their cake and eat it, too. There will come a time soon where they’ll have to choose between Irving and Russell, and how they choose will define the future of their franchise.