Earlier this month, Caesar’s Palace listed the Brooklyn Nets as the favorites to land Kyrie Irving in free agency, leading many to believe that might spell the end of D’Angelo Russell’s run with the team.
Not so fast.
A source tells the New York Post’s Brian Lewis that the Nets are hoping to pair the All-Star guards in a new-look backcourt that would be heavy on scoring potential and light on defense.
A source tells me that there are some within the #Nets organization that feel a D'Angelo Russell-Kyrie Irving pairing could work, that the two All-Star point guards could not only coexist but thrive. Story on the way.— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) May 25, 2019
Russell has often shared a backcourt with point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, but Dinwiddie’s 6-foot-6 size allows him to guard shooting guards. Playing alongside Irving would be a big shift since Russell (6-foot-5) would be tasked with guarding more taller players than Irving (6-foot-3).
Defensive challenges aside, Irving and Russell would form one of the most high-powered backcourts with two top-25 scorers. Irving has consistently been among the league's best scorers with at least 23 points per game and better than 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc the last three years. Russell, meanwhile broke out in earnest this season with career highs in scoring (21.1), assists (7.0) and 3-point shooting (36.9 percent).
The Nets have built a culture of winning out of the depths of despair, and landing a pair of All-Stars would supercharge their rebuild. The question is how they can make it happen.
Can the Nets fit both Irving and Russell under the cap?
The Nets have space to sign a max free agent this offseason, but that’s only temporary. As soon as Allen Crabbe exercises his $18.5 million player option, thanks to Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s free agent holds.
Brooklyn will have several options to clear cap space, including trading Crabbe, although the NBA’s requirement to match salaries will minimize its effectiveness. Finding another taker will be another issue. Alternatively, renouncing Hollis-Jefferson will still leave less than $20 million in cap space, and renouncing Russell would make it impossible to keep him after signing Irving.
General manager Sean Marks and the Nets’ revamped front office will have to use plenty of cap gymnastics to find a way to make everything fit, but the team seems driven to have two All-Stars on a team for the first time since 2006-07.
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