The Brooklyn Nets had a stunning first day kicking off the highly-anticipated 2019 NBA free agency season, in a year in which several franchises had built their hopes around landing two of the top available players: two-time NBA finals MVP Kevin Durant and six time all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, who also has a championship under his belt.
At 6 p.m. on June 30, when players and teams can officially talk and commit to contracts, Durant revealed his decision to go all in on Brooklyn on the Boardroom Instagram account, which is affiliated with his ESPN show.
“Kevin Durant has confirmed he will sign a max deal with the Brooklyn Nets when the free agent moratorium period ends on July 6,” the post read.
On July 1, Irving, who attended high school in New Jersey and grew up a Nets fan, said in an Instagram video that showed him dribbling a basketball on the Brooklyn Bridge, “In my heart I knew I wanted to play at home and home is where my heart is.” He added, “I wouldn’t change anything about this journey at all. I’m happy to be in Brooklyn.”
Although Durant suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon which will likely keep him out a full season, the Nets were among several teams willing to offer the star the max contract in hopes he would be able to return to his high play form and lead the team to their first NBA title in franchise history.
Irving, who isn’t recovering from an injury, left the Boston Celtics for Brooklyn and will also receive nearly a max contact, according to ESPN.
Throughout the 2018-19 season, both players, who are friends and wanted to play on the same team, were spoken of in connection to the Knicks, the public perception being that Irving was unhappy in Boston following a disappointing season and Durant wanted to move on from Golden State after winning multiple titles.
ESPN had also reported that the Knicks were hesitant to give Durant a max money contract due to his injury. It’s unclear, however, if Durant or Irving had considered the Knicks.
The Nets have a young core of players led by Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs, and surprised the league by having their first winning season since 2013-14 and earning a spot in the postseason.
General Manager Sean Marks, who was hired in 2016, inherited a team with little cap space and no draft picks due to the previous regime trading them away to Boston for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for a run at the title in 2014, which resulted in a second round exit after a defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat.
After hiring the now well-respected head coach Kenny Atkinson and finding ways to improve the team with minimal resources, Marks found a way to land two top players despite the Nets being perceived as a second fiddle team to the Knicks, who play at the historic Madison Square Garden where games are often attended by A-list celebrities.
Irving’s four-year contract is worth $141 million. Durant’s four-year contract is worth around $164 million, according to ESPN.
Center DeAndre Jordan will also sign a four-year deal.
Although the signings can’t be official until July 6, several elected officials have already chimed in via social media.
“The center of the @NBA universe has moved to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush!” said Borough President Eric Adams via Twitter. “Welcome to #Brooklyn, @KDTrey5 (Kevin Durant) and @KyrieIrving (Kyrie Irving)! Congrats to everyone in the @BrooklynNets organization who has worked so hard to build this team into a title contender!”
“@KDTrey5, @DeAndre and @KyrieIrving: welcome to Brooklyn,” wrote Mayor Bill de Blasio on Twitter. “Confetti is going to look good on Flatbush Avenue when the @BrooklynNets shock the world!”
Of course, the moves are not without sacrifice and risk.
The signings mark the end of Nets starting point guard D’Angelo Russell’s two-year tenure with the team. Russell quickly became a fan-favorite and an all-star last year after living up to the potential he displayed when drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged a career high 21.1 points per game and led the Nets to the playoffs. He is also just 23 years old and is expected to play for the Warriors this season after a possible sign and trade with the Nets.
Durant’s Achilles injury is as serious as they come for basketball players and history has shown very few players have returned to play at the same level. Dominique Wilkens is often cited as one of the few examples of players who came back as strong.
Irving has had issues with Boston media, according to the Boston Herald and has also had knee injuries.
However, most teams that have won championships within the past couple of decades have required the talent of superstars like Durant and Irving. Marks and company are betting that the $300 million-plus gamble will be worth the risk.
Fans and media believe so, too.
Nets site NetsDaily tweeted, “In a little more than a year, the Nets have gone from “a long, long way to go” to “a long way to go” to “WAY TO GO!”
Diehard Nets fan and WFAN host Evan Roberts tweeted “I’m numb,” as well as, “Not laughable anymore,” referring to the prospect of landing the players.