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Report: Durant not recruiting free agents to Brooklyn this offseason, is that Irving related?

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in 2022 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets

BROOKLYN, NY - APRIL 25: Kevin Durant #7 hi-fives Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets before Round 1 Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs on April 25, 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Two things should have long been clear to anyone following the Kyrie Irving contract saga:

1) Irving’s best leverage in negotiations is not his considerable skill when he does decide to play, but rather his relationship and partnership with franchise cornerstone Kevin Durant. Durant and Irving are tight, and the Nets want to keep Durant happy.

2) A lot of other teams would love to see the Nets blow up and Durant to ask for a trade.

Adrian Wojnarowski tied all that together in a story at ESPN on the game of chicken that is the Irving contract negotiations. Woj also had interesting new information: Durant is taking a much more passive role in recruiting free agents to Brooklyn this summer.

In previous offseasons, rival agents and players would tell you of Durant’s eagerness in talking to potential free agents. So far, that hasn’t been the case with him, sources say. Outside of Irving, the Nets’ most important free agent is guard Patty Mills, who still hasn’t decided whether to exercise his $7.2 million player option. Around the Irving drama, the Nets’ environment has made it harder to keep and court role players, sources say.

We don’t know for sure who Durant has and hasn’t spoken to this offseason, and we don’t know if a quieter Durant is tied at all to Irving’s contract status or something else. There’s a lot of speculation in the idea an unhappy Durant is not talking up his team and the next step is him asking out. However, it’s also safe to say that if Irving did become a free agent and left and/or forced a sign-and-trade — most likely to the Knicks, it’s far more probable than a deal with either Los Angeles team — Durant would be very unhappy.

Brooklyn could bring back a core of Durant, Irving, Ben Simmons and Joe Harris next season, with role players such as Seth Curry, Patty Mills (if he opts in), and Cameron Thomas, plus others they sign with the taxpayer mid-level exception and minimum contracts. There’s not much margin for error with that group, but if things break right they are a contender. If the Irving situation is settled and he is back in the Nets’ fold — still the most likely outcome of all this drama — then maybe Durant will help recruit some veterans to help round out the roster.

All this drama is about Irving trying to create leverage after playing in 45% of the Nets games since he came to Brooklyn. The Nets organization is frustrated and wants a shorter deal; Irving wants a longer-term contract. Right now it’s a game of chicken, but the smart money is still on them finding common ground and getting a deal done.