Kyrie or D’Angelo? How Brooklyn might handle a difficult decision

The ripple effects of Kevin Durant’s catastrophic injury touched nearly half of the league’s teams, but two weeks later, the team impacted most as free agency approaches might be one that was not completely obvious the moment Durant crumpled: the Brooklyn Nets.

For weeks, most plugged-in reporters have pegged Brooklyn as Kyrie Irving’s preferred choice. With free agency less than a week away, that still appears true, per sources across the league.

The Nets over the past month have telegraphed their intention of pairing Irving with a second max-salaried superstar. Durant has been widely assumed to be that star. Four days before Durant tore his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Nets agreed to trade Allen Crabbe and two first-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Taurean Prince and a second-round pick — clearing $15 million in extra cap space. They opened about $2 million more space on draft night by trading the No. 27 pick to the LA Clippers in exchange for a protected 2020 first-round nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Depending on precisely where the cap ends up, Brooklyn is one or two minor moves from cracking the $71 million in space required to sign both Irving and Durant to maximum salaries.2

Doing so will cost them D’Angelo Russell one way or another. Before Durant’s injury, that was a no-brainer. There are maybe a half-dozen guys who have proved they can be the best player on a championship team. Durant is one. When you can get one in his prime, you do it.

The apex version of the 2018-19 Celtics was perhaps the most fertile ground possible for Irving to prove himself as a championship-level alpha. In dissecting what went wrong for Boston, not enough attention has been paid to Gordon Hayward’s traumatic leg injury in the opener one season nfl jerseys china nike

People forget now, but there was legitimate debate going into that season over whether Hayward — or even Al Horford — was Boston’s best all-around player. There was no question Irving was the Celtics’ best scorer and orchestrator. If Irving could emerge as the rare Best Player On A Championship Team, it would be in a scenario like that — when he stood as the best of three A-minus-level veteran stars who complemented each other, backed by a strong supporting cast.

We never saw that team.

The Nets without Durant might be able to approximate building such a team around Irving, but it’s no sure thing. It’s unclear why Brooklyn would want that after watching Boston implode. No: Irving is the All-Star to lure the A-plus superstar — that is, Durant.

Now Durant is injured. His plans in free agency are muddled. He could miss all of next season. We don’t know how he will look upon his return or whether he will ever be the same player. Ninety percent of Durant is still an All-NBA-level guy. But what if the other 10 percent is the difference between that and the top-five overall player who can indisputably work as the No. 1 option on a title team?