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Why the Spurs could be the key to any Kyrie Irving trade

The Spurs are the only team left with ample cap room, which makes them the perfect third party to involve in any big trade.

NBA: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving has asked the Brooklyn Nets for a trade, once again. The talented but controversial point guard reportedly wanted either an extension with no stipulations or to be moved, and it seems like he might be finding a new home soon.

The Spurs shouldn’t be interested for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that Irving is about to turn 31, hasn’t been durable in the past few years and could walk in free agency, but they might be able to help facilitate a trade, which could net them an asset.

So far the three likely Irving destinations are the Suns, Lakers and Mavericks, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. All three teams could in theory match Irving’s salary, but they could all also use a third team to make things smoother. That’s where the Spurs, which currently have over $26 million in cap space and are the only team with that kind of flexibility after the Pacers used their room to extend Myles Turner, could come in to lend a hand, for a price.

Let’s look at hypotheticals. In a potential deal with the Lakers, the Spurs could take on Russell Westbrook’s deal by including Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson in the transaction as pieces going to the Nets, which would provide Brooklyn with some quality veterans on short contracts to expand their depth and remain in contention while preserving cap flexibility. Maybe the Lakers would prefer to take on one of San Antonio’s veterans and send Patrick Beverley to the Nets, who might welcome a replacement that matches Irving's position. Other pieces could be added. The point is the Spurs would be in a position to save Brooklyn money by taking on Westbrook if they don’t want him and potentially get either a young player or a first round pick from one of the other teams involved, likely the Lakers. They could then waive Westbrook and continue their season without changing much.

If the Suns are the ones who actually make a move for Irving, they would likely involve Chris Paul in the transaction, but because Paul makes significantly less than Irving, they would also need to add another big contract. Now, it’s possible the Nets don’t want any salary filler and ask for another major piece, but if they are interested in just doing either a one-for-one swap or a bigger trade, San Antonio’s cap space could help. Just as an example, they might ask for Deandre Ayton as well, assuming Mikal Bridges is off the table. In that case, the Nets would have to send out a large contract, likely Joe Harris’, in order to make salaries match. The Spurs could simply absorb Harris’ deal so that Phoenix doesn’t have to. More pieces can be involved if needed, with the Spurs potentially including Richardson and taking on some salary that the other two teams don’t want, for a first rounder or a young player.

Dallas would have an easier time matching salaries in theory, since they have several mid-sized contracts they could combine. A Spencer Dinwiddie and Christian Wood for Irving swap works, for example. Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell are also all in deals for around $10 million a season. One of the ways the Spurs could get involved, however, is if the Nets are not interested in multiple role players and want just one piece from Dallas to go along with cap savings and picks. As an example, let’s say they just want Dinwiddie. In that case, the Spurs could take on one of the Mavericks’ bad contracts, which include Tim Hardaway Jr. and Davis Bertans, for a pick. The issue here is that the Nets would likely be trying to get all the draft assets they can in that scenario, so it’s unclear what would be left for San Antonio to receive.

Those are just examples based on a preliminary list of potential landing spots, so the details are not too important. What’s interesting is the position in which the Spurs find themselves. It’s entirely possible the transaction doesn’t involve them, but if Irving gets traded, all that cap space San Antonio has available could be extremely valuable. And if the Irving trade request results in a Kevin Durant trade request, most of the league will be working the phones trying to find deals that work with the knowledge that the Spurs’ cap space can make most combinations happen from a salary-matching perspective.

As the trade deadline approaches, it appears there could be big moves coming. While the Spurs are probably only going to be facilitators if they are involved at all in a deal that involves a star, they have put themselves in a position to continue to accumulate assets to speed up their rebuild.