Kyrie Irving is gone, but the Brooklyn Nets just got better. Irving is obviously the most talented basketball player involved in Sunday’s blockbuster move. But the Nets front office had an opening to get out of a toxic relationship and broke it off, eliminating drama caused by Irving’s presence while bolstering their defense, retaining scoring juice on offense, and adding valuable future picks from a Dallas Mavericks organization that is suddenly at risk to implode in the coming years.
Brooklyn just gained one of the NBA’s best 3-and-D wings in Dorian Finney-Smith and a big guard in Spencer Dinwiddie capable of averaging more than 20 points per game. With an incoming unprotected future first-round pick (2029) and two seconds (2027 and 2029) from the Mavericks, the Nets also now have even more assets to dangle in deals ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline.
The Nets have just a 4-6 record in their last 10 games without Kevin Durant and with Irving, including losses to two tanking teams and a 43-point thumping from the Celtics. Irving was supposedly on his best behavior in the locker room during this stretch, yet proved incapable of even sustaining it long enough until KD could return from his MCL sprain.
Durant himself could blow up Brooklyn’s deadline plans by demanding another trade. After all, it’s been only six months since he did it last. The Suns are among the teams that would be prepared to offer a massive haul to acquire KD from the Nets, according to Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes. But unless that happens, Brooklyn is looking to get better, not worse.
Let’s set the table for trade deadline week by assessing where the Nets are now after the Kyrie trade and what the implications are for the rest of the league:
1. The New-Look Nets Are Deep
Right now, Durant’s supporting cast looks something like this:
Bigs: Nic Claxton, Ben Simmons
Wings: Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, T.J. Warren, Joe Harris, Yuta Watanabe
Guards: Dinwiddie, Seth Curry, Cam Thomas, Patty Mills
The Nets are about 12 deep now. A playoff rotation is usually only eight or nine deep, so they could do some consolidating before the week is over. But the team right now has a ton of versatility on defense, with more quality wings than arguably any other team. Dinwiddie and Curry are nowhere near Irving’s level, but they’re bucket getters who don’t demand the ball like he does either.
Watching Thomas score a career-high 44 points on Saturday was a reminder of how successful he’s been when provided chances in his young career. Thomas has averaged 28 points in 25.5 minutes over the last three games, and in his 12 total games this season playing at least 20 minutes he’s averaging 18.8 points on good scoring efficiency.
Irving is undeniably a loss on offense, but the Nets have options in the backcourt and they’re equipped to defend anyone. On any given night, they could get the boost they need from a different veteran.
2. What Is Brooklyn Missing?
The Nets could use an upgrade at backup center, which I wrote about two weeks ago. Claxton can’t space the floor from 3, and both he and Simmons are threats to get intentionally hacked in the postseason.
Durant lacks a traditional costar since Simmons has failed (dramatically) to match his offensive production from his days with the 76ers. Simmons is as reluctant as ever to shoot around the rim, and even if he screens he’s unwilling to roll hard to the basket. As presently constructed, Simmons will likely be riding the bench in fourth quarters in the playoffs or even not receive a minute at all.
With so many veterans on short-term contracts, plus upside pieces like Simmons, a talented guard in Thomas, and multiple future firsts, the Nets are equipped to make a compelling offer for one of the best players on the market. Even if they’re unable to make a big splash, they’re diving in.
3. Who Could the Nets Target?
The Irving trade gives the Nets far more flexibility for trades. Simmons, Thomas, and Day’Ron Sharpe are their most intriguing young players. For draft picks, they have their own 2028 and 2029 first-rounders, a future first from Philadelphia in 2027 or 2028, and the Dallas first in 2029. They can deal up to three future firsts, plus one swap. With those prospects and picks, they can’t trump any offer, but they’re positioned to compete in the trade market.
I reported last month that the Nets have interest in Timberwolves center Naz Reid, which still appears to be the case. The center market is pretty slim overall. The Magic are open to moving Mo Bamba. The Jazz could move Kelly Olynyk or Jarred Vanderbilt. All of them would provide the Nets with some needed frontcourt shooting. John Collins would be an intriguing option if the Hawks decide to move on from him, but his jacked-up ring finger has ruined his jumper. Maybe the Nets don’t need a center who can space the floor, just a big body who can battle against larger frontlines. If so, then someone like Jakob Poeltl has appeal.
One of the teams Brooklyn has been most connected to is the Raptors, who have had trade talks with multiple teams involving Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby. The Raptors had interest in Simmons in 2021 when the 76ers were shopping him. Though Scottie Barnes’s emergence would make Simmons a strange fit as they’re both non-shooters, he does count as a buy-low, high-value target who could restore his career in time.
4. The Dallas Picks Are Potentially Huge
The Dallas picks Brooklyn is receiving all come in years that Luka Doncic is no longer guaranteed under contract (he has a player option for a final year in 2026-27). Teams around the league already considered Doncic a threat to someday leave for a big market like Miami, Los Angeles, or New York. And that was before the arrival of a player who has had ugly exits from all three organizations he’s played for.
Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison likely thinks he can make it work with Irving after their years together with Nike, where he was an executive and worked for nearly two decades. But Irving tapes over the Nike logo on his sneakers now because he lost his sponsorship deal. Irving didn’t talk to his teammates during the playoffs before demanding a trade out of Cleveland. He quit on his team in Boston before leaving for the Nets. He just blindsided his teammates again in Brooklyn. Whether you like him or not, those decisions have consistently been detrimental throughout his career.
Will Kyrie now make it work with Luka in Dallas? That’s the all-in bet the Mavs are taking just months after refusing to pay Jalen Brunson, who is having a career year in New York. The Mavs have theoretically increased their title odds by providing a costar to Doncic, but Doncic will need to give up more touches than ever to make it work. This team was already terrible on defense and now it just gave up its best stopper on the wing.
As big of a name that Irving is, the Mavs have also increased the odds that things will collapse in the years to come. The Nets would be the beneficiary in that scenario by holding their 2029 unprotected first-round pick, giving them a valuable ticket for trades now or later.
5. LeBron James Must Be Fuming
The Mavs have taken a massive risk acquiring Irving, but they did block two conference rivals in the Lakers and the Clippers. League sources say the Clippers offered Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, one future first, and two first-round pick swaps. An additional salary would’ve been required to complete the trade, but that was the gist of it.
The Dallas offer was better, though. Now the Clippers remain in the same place they were before, with a good-but-flawed roster and two stars who have missed extensive time. At least they’re better positioned than the Lakers.
When asked whether Kyrie Irving could help the Lakers pursue a championship on Saturday, LeBron responded, “Duh.”
If Irving’s situation in Dallas sours, he could always walk this summer. After re-signing Rui Hachimura, the Lakers can create roughly $20 million in cap space. Irving likely won’t have a max contract offer on the table unless things go well with the Mavericks. LeBron might get what he wants, but he’ll have to wait.
Let’s recap the last few months for the Lakers: They had a chance to deal Westbrook (plus picks) for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. They refused. Turner has had the best season of his career and just inked an extension with the Pacers. Hield is also having a stellar season, shooting the heck out of the ball and posting career-best efficiency numbers. And with Irving available, the Lakers fell short in part due to an unwillingness to re-sign him long term.
Hey, at least they got Hachimura.
LeBron’s still stuck with Russell Westbrook, who has played his way into Sixth Man of the Year consideration but remains an abhorrently inefficient scorer. The Lakers will now review other deals on the market involving Westbrook. Maybe Zach LaVine? DeMar DeRozan? A collection of role players from the Jazz or Spurs?
None of these options would provide as much upside as Irving, especially considering his familiarity with James, but the Lakers will stay in the hunt for upgrades. They reportedly believe they’re one move away from championship contention, but they’ve balked at every opportunity to make it so far.
6. The Kyrie Trade Signals a Busy Week Ahead
The Nets improved their team, but they’re still not the favorites in the East without making one more big move. The teams ahead of them in the standings could all make improvements too.
At the top of the conference, the Celtics are looking for upgrades at center and wing. It’s been widely reported they have had interest in Poeltl. NBA executives say teams have made calls to Boston about Grant Williams, who has underwhelmed on defense ahead of entering restricted free agency this summer.
Boston defeated Brooklyn last year and caused Durant to play the worst series of his entire career by denying him off ball and doubling him when he had possession. If the Celtics make any additional progress at the deadline, it’s tough to see the Nets closing the gap.
The Bucks and Sixers are similarly equipped to give Durant trouble in a potential playoff series. They both have the size to overwhelm on the boards and heady defenders who can bother Durant, much like the Celtics did last year. And both of them could get better, with the Sixers working on deals to upgrade from Matisse Thybulle and the Bucks considered a favorite to land Jae Crowder.
As much love as the Celtics get as the favorites in the East, the Bucks are just one game behind them in the standings even though Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have both missed extensive time. Since Middleton returned, Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing the best basketball of his MVP-caliber season.
The Cavs and Heat also loom in the East. Either team is capable of defeating the Nets in a playoff series. Both of them are also expected to be active in trade talks this week and could end up looking even better by the end of Thursday evening.
7. Will KD Demand a Trade?
The Nets will do everything they can to build a title team around Durant, as they’ve shown by taking his plus-one in Irving in the first place, signing DeAndre Jordan, hiring the coach he wanted, making two James Harden deals, and now moving Irving. But there’s nothing stopping him from demanding another trade this week or this coming summer. If that were to happen, then the Rockets, who own two of Brooklyn’s unprotected future firsts and the rights to swap for three others, would come out as massive winners from the Harden deal.
With the way last season ended, he has to have reservations about his team’s chances. But Durant chose this path. KD decided to leave an ideal basketball situation with the Warriors to partner with Irving in Brooklyn. He chose Kyrie, despite all the risks and his track record. And he chose James Harden, despite the possibility he’d want to leave. Now, only KD remains.
If Durant asks to get out now, he’s quitting on the mess he created. But trade demands don’t always lead to happiness or wins. To win in the NBA, you usually have to build something. You can’t keep running. The Nets have shown a willingness to do everything possible to appease him even when it wasn’t easy. Now, it’s on Durant to make it work.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Nets have a 5-7 record in their last 12 games without Kevin Durant and with Kyrie Irving. They have a 4-6 record in their last 10 games without Durant and with Irving.