The Brooklyn Nets cleared their path to chasing two maximum-salary players this summer when they reportedly agreed to a deal Thursday that will send Allen Crabbe and his $18.5 million salary to the Atlanta Hawks.
That the Nets were willing to move their own 2019 first-round pick to make the deal happen suggests a team that’s brashly confident in their ability to maximize those two slots. Remember, this would have been the first time Brooklyn had control of its actual first-round pick since 2013.
In breaking the news of the trade, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that, “Boston guard Kyrie Irving -- who is expected to become a free agent -- and Brooklyn have a strong mutual interest.”
Listen, if you subscribe to the whole “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” theory, then this hasn’t been a great week for those Celtics fans who want Irving back in green (even if, at times, it feels like that’s a low number, anyhow).
First, Stephen A. Smith suggested that Kyrie Irving has given “every indication” to the Nets that he wanted to sign there. Then Irving posted a video on Instagram of him hugging a New Jersey crossing guard from his childhood (the Nets were previously in Jersey). Then Irving got photographed walking into an apartment in New York, all while Danny Ainge sounded less than confident about where Irving and Boston’s so-called “engagement” stands.
The Nets came flying in from the top rope with a move Thursday that might have been their way of signaling to Irving, "Hey, look! You can come here and bring a friend!" (Cough, cough, Kevin Durant). The only people taking this news harder than the faction of Celtics fans that want Irving back is all the Knicks fans who thought the duo was ticketed for Madison Square Garden.
So the lingering question is whether the Nets know something more about Irving’s intentions or if they’re simply rolling the dice and positioning themselves for what should be an absolutely wild July.
The Knicks and Nets both have room for two max-contract free agents. The Clippers could soon join them. The Lakers have a max slot and might have the assets necessary to finally coerce the Pelicans into an Anthony Davis deal.
The Celtics are left hoping that Irving can at least give them some direction sooner than later. Boston has the assets to position itself in the Davis pursuit but might not be willing to navigate that path if Irving isn’t coming back, in part because if Davis bolted in the summer of 2020, the Celtics would be left with a bare roster and none of the future assets — like all those Nets picks — that helped it expedite the last turnover process.
Ainge noted in a meeting with reporters on Wednesday that typically the Celtics have Plans A through G ready for the summer. This year, Ainge noted it’s more like A through Z. And that’s probably a good strategy considering how wild things could get.
Is Irving simply putting pressure on Boston to make the sort of moves that would encourage his return with Brooklyn flirtations? Ainge said Wednesday that he didn’t know if there were any moves he could make that would heighten Irving’s desire to return.
"I don’t know the answer to that,” said Ainge. "I don’t know that yet.”
Are the Nets simply posturing themselves as confident about their chances at Irving in hopes the hype makes it a reality? Brooklyn GM Sean Marks has done a remarkable job steering the Nets back to being competitive despite being devoid of quality picks and, regardless of the Irving pursuit, the team is extremely well-positioned to emerge as a true player in the East.
Plucking Irving from Boston, of course, would be the ultimate NetsPick revenge.
For now, there is only one certainty: That there's still 14 days until draft night, and 10 more days after that until free agency truly begins.
Buckle up. This ride might be as bumpy as the Celtics’ 2018-19 season.
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