Kyrie Irving. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Brooklyn Nets are forcing their way into the conversation as major players on the free-agent market this summer.
Once expected to play second-fiddle to the New York Knicks come Jul. 1 when free agency begins, the Nets continue to make all the right moves in their pursuit of one or more superstars.
On Thursday, Brooklyn traded Allan Crabbe to the Atlanta Hawks where it received Taurean Prince in return but importantly, got the guard's $18.5 million off the books.
That currently leaves the Nets with approximately $46 million in cap space for a summer spending spree, which would be enough for two max salary contracts.
As it stands, the Nets look to be on the verge of couping superstar point guard Kyrie Irving should he decide to leave the Boston Celtics.
Vegas has them tabbed as the favorites to land him and sources have told Anthony Puccio
of the Daily News that the Nets are "frontrunners" for the 27-year-old.
Irving grew up in New Jersey as a Nets fan and idolized Jason Kidd during the franchise's more successful periods in the early-2000s.
There is a possibility of the Nets pairing up Irving with D'Angelo Russell in the Nets' backcourt even though the two play a similar style.
At just 23 years old, Russell is coming off the finest season of his career, garnering his first-ever All-Star appearance after posting 21.1 points and seven assists per game.
As a restricted free agent, though, Russell's big year throws a wrench into the Nets' plans.
If GM Sean Marks opts to renounce Russell rather than retain him, the Nets will have those two max salary slots to use this summer. Should they retain or extend Russell, it becomes just one.
Given Brooklyn's standing as favorites to sign Irving, there suddenly is a chance to make a serious run at Golden State Warriors playmaker Kevin Durant.
The 10-time All-Star has been linked with the crosstown-rival Knicks for the better part of the last year, considered as a future savior of a franchise that has done nothing for two decades.
However, the Nets are a team coming off a playoff appearance in the weaker Eastern Conference. Adding Irving could make them a far more attractive landing spot compared to the Knicks for Durant.
Taking such a course of action will be a hard turn away from the Nets' values during their rebuild. This was a franchise that went from basement-dweller to playoffs in the East by developing its young players.
But you can't develop an Irving or Durant too often, which would immediately make the Nets a title contender.