Clippers have interest in acquiring Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving
With a dramatic late push, the Clippers emerged Saturday with a victory.
Still unknown is the larger question that surrounds the franchise: Will their entry into the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes let them leave the NBA’s trade deadline with a point guard?
For all the drama that unfolded inside Madison Square Garden as Nicolas Batum’s last-second three-pointer staved off a 17-point, fourth-quarter Clippers collapse to force overtime and lead to an eventual 134-128 win against the New York Knicks, there was just as much of a spotlight on the Clippers’ action with the team a few miles away across the East River.
The Clippers are pursuing a trade for Irving, the Brooklyn point guard, confirmed people with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. The Clippers’ efforts to add him have been heartily supported by coach Tyronn Lue, who coached Irving in Cleveland during the high-water mark of the guard’s career, the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship run.
The NBA’s trade deadline is Thursday, and the majority of deals take until the final hours to execute — but there is a belief the Nets could be motivated to make a decision on Irving soon. The front offices of the Nets and Clippers have worked as trade partners before, in 2020.
Other teams said to be pursuing trades for Irving include the Lakers and Phoenix Suns, who could stand in the path of the Clippers’ championship ambitions.
This season Irving has played 40 games for Brooklyn, averaging 27.1 points and 5.3 assists on 48% shooting while adding to his litany of off-court headlines and controversy since joining the Nets in 2019.
After missing the majority of the 2021-22 season because he declined to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Irving asked to be traded last summer, only for Brooklyn to keep him in the fold. Then the guard was suspended for eight games this season after posting a link on social media to a movie that included antisemitic messages. On Friday, he reportedly asked to be traded again after disagreements with the Nets over a contract extension.
Irving has supporters within the Clippers because when he is on the court, he is among the NBA’s elite at point guard, a position the team has been looking for ways to upgrade in the weeks before the trade deadline. The Clippers also have been linked to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet and Utah’s Mike Conley, among others.
In June, after the NBA draft and following Irving’s initial trade request, Lawrence Frank, the Clippers president of basketball operations, was not asked about Irving directly but remarked that the team evaluated additions while understanding “the basketball character of the player.” Innately, he said, the team’s best players are its leaders.
“Your people create your culture,” Frank said, “and so yeah, we look at all those things and try to study, if we are going to bring this player in the locker room, how does it fit?”
Irving did not play in or attend Brooklyn’s victory Saturday against Washington, citing calf soreness. Nets coach Jacque Vaughn told reporters in Brooklyn that he is approaching Irving’s absence as day-to-day. The Clippers face the Nets on Monday in the finale of their six-game trip.
“I don’t think about it,” Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said of the team’s focus amid trade rumors. “We got to win games, we’re playing every other day and got good teams in front of us. That’s how I’ll stay focused.”
Said Paul George, who scored 30 points: “You don’t look ahead. For us we want to be playing the best basketball going into the [All-Star] break, so anything else or any other thoughts are kind of out of your mind. Our job is to compete.”
Saturday’s win again showed why the team has been known to be in talks for lead guards who put pressure on defenses. Despite holding a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead, the Clippers managed just two points in a four-minute span that cut their lead to eight. New York closed the fourth quarter with a 21-6 run to lead 115-112.
“A lot of time we got stagnant,” Leonard said. “A lot of just isolations and it just kind of lets them rest a little bit on the defensive end.”
After center Ivica Zubac collected the rebound from a missed George three-pointer with eight seconds left, the ball swung from George to the right corner, hitting Batum’s hands with 1.7 seconds left. It left his palm six-tenths later, the shot swishing to force overtime.
Batum has worked on quickening the release of his shot in recent offseasons through a drill in which he attempts to make 100 three-pointers in five minutes, an exercise that requires him to aim and fire in an instant. It played a role in a win that improved the Clippers to 30-26.
“Sometimes it’s going to get a very late pass and just catch it the way I can and just throw it,” he said. “I practice that all summer. It worked tonight.”
Now it will be seen if their attempt to land Irving works.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.