And on the eighth day, God gave us...Brooklyn Nets trade requests.
It’s hard to get excited about the Houston Rockets right now — unless you’re running the Tankathon odds, that is. Otherwise, we’ve got the blossoming Alperen Sengun / KJ Martin pick-and-roll pairing, Tari Eason offensive rebounds, and...yeah.
Until this weekend. If you somehow missed it, Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets. This is very good news.
Why should Rockets fans be celebrating this joyous occasion?
The Rockets own the Nets’ first-round draft rights, whether outright or via swap, until 2027. Surely you knew that.
Anything that’s bad for the Nets is good for the Rockets. Kyrie Irving’s request could easily portend another Kevin Durant trade request. One might even say it’s exceedingly likely.
Rome is burning, and the Rockets are the Ostrogoths. I had to do some research to get that line off, so please appreciate it.
All of this leaves the Nets in a bind. They won’t be able to flip Irving for anyone who gives them an equal chance at an NBA title. It’s simply not feasible. Irving is a distressed asset. From a win-now lens, the best they’re likely to do is something like 37-year-old Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson. Something tells me that won’t appease Durant.
Russell Westbrook and a pair of first-round picks from the Lakers feel like the highest-value package they're likely to receive. The Nets could even try to bank on the pre-existing chemistry between Westbrook and Durant.
(Cue evil supervillain laughter).
Westbrook can’t play with Ben Simmons. In the three-point era of NBA basketball, are the Nets going to trot out a starting lineup of Nic Claxton, Durant, Royce O’Neale, Westbrook, and Simmons? Two-out spacing? Sure... good luck with that.
Yet, the Nets can’t afford to bottom out and rebuild either — they owe the Rockets their draft capital for the foreseeable future.
The Rockets as a third party
This scenario is what really inspired me to write this piece.
The Stepien Rule disallows teams from trading their first-round picks in consecutive seasons, That’s why the Nets picks that the Rockets own are intermittently unprotected picks and swaps on a season-by-season basis.
If the Nets didn’t owe the Rockets all those picks, they wouldn’t be so hamstrung. What if they didn’t?
The Rockets have something the Nets want. Their own draft capital should hold more value to them than any pick from another team. Owning their own selections would give them optionality.
By contrast, a pick swap is worth less to the Rockets than an unprotected pick. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Here’s a hypothetical:
Brooklyn Nets receive: G Russell Westbrook, 2025 First-Round Pick (BKN via HOU), 2027 First-Round Pick (BKN via HOU)
Los Angeles Lakers receive: G Kyrie Irving
Houston Rockets receive: 2027 First-Round Pick (LAL), 2029 First-Round Pick (LAL)
Everybody wins. The Nets are better off with their own draft capital back than they are with Lakers picks that they can’t control. Now, they can afford to trade Durant for a mass of first-round picks rather than a win-now package that won’t help them win as much as Durant could.
Meanwhile, the Rockets get outright picks rather than pick swaps. That’s the rub here — those swaps are picks to the Nets, but they’re swaps to the Rockets. If the Nets insist on staying competitive, it’s possible that every swap they received for Harden will be meaningless.
On the other hand, these Lakers picks are hot commodities. The Lakers are old. Their sturdiest lifeline to the future at the moment is Anthony Davis. He tends to get hurt a lot. Unless the Lakers can land a big name free agent in a dying free agency market, they’re likely to land in the lottery by the time these picks convey.
This is my preferred scenario for the Rockets. There is one more possibility...
The Rockets trade for Irving
I know. I’m deeply sorry.
There are already concerns about the Rockets’ culture. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving is to team culture as the video is to the radio star. The Rockets probably shouldn’t do this, and they probably won’t.
At the same time, Irving is good at basketball like human beings are good at consuming water. He may have been born with the rock in his hands. No matter how you feel about Irving, the Hoop Gods clearly anointed him
Listen. I don’t love this. Ted Cruz openly advocated for it, and without getting political, I’ll say that my views don’t align with his. My best friend is Jewish, but even if he wasn’t, I don’t think I’d be big on sharing Hitler quotes.
All the same, there are some narrow lines to walk here. The case that African-Americans can trace their origins to Israel is not an inherently bigoted one. I’m not a fan of leftists who won’t tolerate opposing (unhateful) viewpoints either. Tolerance is supposed to be one of our flagship principles.
I’m digressing. In fact, I went ahead and got political. It’s so hard not to when you’re talking about Kyrie Irving. Let’s just call this a possibility. There’s an opportunity here to acquire one of the 10 or so best basketball players in the world at a discounted price.
There are a lot of opportunities here. The Rockets control the Brooklyn Nets’ future.
Yesterday, it got significantly less bright.