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Should the Sixers pursue Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant if available? What could that look like?

Incredibly, the Brooklyn Nets might be considering the eject button on one of the league’s most talented teams. How can the Sixers capitalize on the swirling uncertainty in Nets-land?

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Like James Harden, Kyrie Irving has until Wednesday to decide if he’ll pick up his hefty player option for 2023, or become an unrestricted free agent. While Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and the Sixers are haggling with Harden over fine print in a “lovefest,” and working the phones for other players, there’s something a bit more... acrimonious going on with the Brooklyn Nets.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s check in with the division rival Nets because the latest here sounds like it could be the biggest story of the offseason... by several miles.

To catch you up, it sounds like Brooklyn owner Joe Tsai doesn’t want to offer Kyrie Irving (who missed most of last season because he wasn’t vaccinated) a long-term (read: four- or five-year max) deal.

Irving, who by all reports loves living in the Brooklyn-Northern New Jersey area where he grew up, wants to get that settled and begin working with the front office on roster changes around him and Kevin Durant. The Seven-Eleven era.

So that’s the grand view. There isn’t a ton of movement league wide to make a play for him right now either. Teams are understandably hesitant.

The Nets have the leverage... until you remember that Irving is precisely the type of wild-card player to do something unexpected like take a short-term $6M contract on a contender, reunite with LeBron and turn the NBA on its head, leaving Kevin Durant, who’d then be stuck with just Ben Simmons for help, yearning for a trade of his own.

There’s a lot for Nets ownership and front office to consider.

Compromise franchise values to keep Durant happy? Or save Durant from his worst instincts? We already compromised once when we let Irving play as a part-time player, should we do it some more? Or did we learn our lessons?

It was reported that Irving listed several teams as possible sign-and-trade landing spots for himself, if things didn’t work out with the Nets. One of those teams he named was the 76ers. But unsurprisingly Philadelphia may not be interested.

A recent report from Kristian Winfield of The New York Daily News paints the picture of a tinderbox down the Tunrpike.

Per Winfield:

“The Nets and Kyrie Irving have not gotten any closer to finding an amicable solution that keeps the superstar guard in Brooklyn.

In fact, things are trending the opposite direction: While Nets GM Sean Marks and superstar forward Kevin Durant have yet to speak this offseason, Irving’s camp has requested and received permission from the Nets to speak with other teams about sign-and-trade packages, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation....

The belief among both league and player circles is that Irving is gone and the Seven-Eleven Era is over before it ever began....

Which brings us to a sign-and-trade, and Irving reportedly has six teams on his radar: the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Heat, 76ers and Mavericks....

...it remains unclear whether or not Durant will want to stay a Net if the front office essentially kicks his co-star out of town.”

Winfield notes the Nets are not intrigued by a Russell Westbrook offer from the Los Angeles Lakers. And that the Knicks and Mavericks may be focused on acquiring or retaining Jalen Brunson for the time being.

So if Tsai and Sean Marks are willing to offer let’s say a three-year max, but not a four-year max, it would essentially mean they are A) prepared to ignite a lengthy rebuild, despite shipping off most of their own picks to Houston in the Harden trade or B) know something we do not about Kevin Durant’s long-term commitment.

Whether it’s A, or B, or something else entirely is still mostly a mystery. Maybe they feel comfortable that they could convince Durant to stay without Kyrie, and that even if they couldn’t, might return enough value in a Durant trade to compete anyway. Maybe Tsai is bored with running a team and wants to rebuild and sell, who really knows?

But you don’t get the sense they’d be surprised if Durant wanted out, and yet here we are in a stalemate anyway. Curious.

Another report from The Athletic included insight from Sam Amick, Alex Schiffer, and Joe Vardon.

As the group writes, in a back and forth format:

Amick: “...there are sources very close to the situation who strongly believe Irving is trying to make his way to the Lakers here and everything else is just (necessary) noise. The sense I get is that [LeBron James is very open to the idea, but the dynamics are somewhat delicate too.....

Schiffer: In regards to Tsai, all indications are that he and his general manager, Sean Marks, are in lockstep with the short-term contract approach they’ve taken with Irving. This isn’t Marks going rogue on ownership.

Irving would have to wait for the Knicks to miss out on all of their top point guard targets before sitting down with them.

Vardon:... But Shams’ intel indicates that Durant is “considering options with his future,” and I’ve spoken to involved sources who have been given that strong indication as well....In summary, Irving has no leverage, Durant has no “options,” as most people would understand the word, and if we wind up in a nuclear situation where KD demands a trade, the Nets would be OK because Durant’s contract is so lucrative that, by rule, the return on a trade for him would have to be about that big.”

Where do the Sixers come into play?

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It makes logical sense that the Sixers would take a thanks but no thanks stand on Kyrie Irving. They’re reportedly shopping players like Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Shake Milton as we speak.

If they wanted to make a play for the mercurial superstar out of Melbourne, Australia, one would think the Nets would have little interest in the type of offer Philadelphia might make. If somehow magically, Brooklyn did want say Harris and Thybulle, that would be a rather fascinating thought experiment for Daryl Morey and Elton Brand. It would test Morey’s reputation as someone who has long valued stars and talent over fit and chemistry.

I for one, think Irving’s substantially better than many of the names we’ve heard coming back in fake Tobias Harris trades. (Gordon Hayward with his injury history is not someone I think a win-now team can rely on to play even 60 games next season and Irving may not be either, but he is a true star whenever available.)

There has been more than a little smoke that Irving could straight up take a $30M pay cut and sign on to a team’s Mid-Level exception. If this were any other player in the world, I’d say ‘no way, no how is he passing up that much money.’ But this is Irving. Good luck decoding or predicting.

So the Sixers should at the very least check in about him coming on board as a MLE candidate... no matter how much you’d love them to get Danuel House instead. Maybe they can swoop in ahead of LeBron James and the Lakers for that idea somehow.

The Sixers should plant a story that LeBron thinks Kyrie is still too immature to be anything more than a Robin to his Batman through Ballsack Sports to thwart L.A.

The other thing to consider is, if the Nets ownership really does decide to hit the eject button on this, do the Sixers have an offer for Kevin Durant, who we’d expect to be next?

That seems pretty unlikely. Teams would probably be lining up if Easy Money Sniper were available, and the Sixers probably wouldn’t offer Joel Embiid. The Nets probably wouldn’t want a James Harden return after the way things left. And the Harris-Tyrese Maxey platters simply won’t compete with the blockbuster offers Brooklyn would be fielding in a historic bidding war.

In my opinion the Sixers checkers move is to quietly check in about Irving playing here on an MLE. That could change everything for them in terms of title odds.

The chess move is to do some due diligence and inquire about a Harris-Maxey and picks for Durant framework, however unlikely.

But the last move, is the most tricky one. What if you could somehow, impossibly, land Irving for Harris and Thybulle in a sign-and-trade? You might have to kick Harden an extra $15M to stomach the idea. But it represents the type of high-risk high-reward play where if it worked out it could vault the Sixers from fringe contenders to Finals favorites.

But I’m assuming many of you reading would disagree with me because you’re simply out on Irving and his flakey, wrecking-ball past. I get it.

So that’s the situation in a nutshell. If the Sixers bow out completely, it will be like 2019 when you were wondering if Kawhi Leonard would stay in Toronto, or head to the Clippers or Lakers. And the best you can do is hope there’s no super team in the works during what figures to be another crucial year of Embiid’s prime.

If none of this is appealing or realistic, fine. But basically, my biggest fear as a fan would be that some team like Miami, Phoenix or the Clippers were cooking up plans for a super team, while the Sixers were hyper focused on finagling P.J. Tucker and a vet min player. So hopefully star-hunting is alive and well in Philly, even if it’s not the stars you pictured them chasing.