CLEVELAND — Earlier this week, Kyrie Irving made his return to the Brooklyn Nets' lineup after a two-month absence due to a shoulder injury.
It didn't take long for the 6-time All-Star to generate headlines.
Speaking to reporters following the Nets' 117-106 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, Irving was asked about the state of his team, which currently lays claim to an 18-22 record. In answering, the former Rookie of the Year made it clear that while Brooklyn is talented, its roster could still use an upgrade.
"I mean, it's transparent. It's out there. It's glaring, in terms of the pieces that we need in order to be at that next level," Irving said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "I'm going to continue to reiterate it. We're going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we'll worry about all the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer.
"Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces, but it's pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces."
More than 2,700 miles west, Irving's former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were in the midst of a six-game road trip and coming off back to back losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. Still in the early stages of a multiyear rebuild, the Cavs' roster currently includes both holdovers from their championship era, as well as an influx of young talent.
Cleveland's mismatched roster -- as well as the addition of former Michigan head coach John Beilein -- has resulted in no shortage of drama during what could best be described as a transitional season. In particular, All-Star forward Kevin Love hasn't been shy to voice his displeasure, both off the court and on it.
Although he's currently in the first season of a four-year, $120 million extension, Love's days with the Cavs already appear to be numbered.
Could a reunion with Irving in Brooklyn cure both his and Irving's issues with their current teams? Possibly -- although finding a trade to send Love from the Cavs to the Nets could be complicated.
Trade deadline looming
The 2020 NBA trade deadline is Feb. 6, which would give both Cleveland and Brooklyn just three weeks to work out a potential deal. And finding such a deal could prove messy, considering the Nets' desire to contend immediately, as well as the expensive nature of Love's contract.
Per NBA rules, the Cavs and Nets' would need to match any salaries exchanged in a deal up to 125 percent plus $100,00. That means Brooklyn would have to send back at least enough to match within 125 percent of Love's $28.9 million salary figure for this season, assuming that the 5-time All-Star would be the only player that Cleveland includes in the deal.
Although the Nets have the salary pieces to make the deal work, as well as players the Cavs could covet, Brooklyn would have to weigh how much it would be willing to give up in order to acquire Love. In particular, it's hard to find a trade between the two teams that works without including Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan, who have both been consistent contributors for Brooklyn this season, with Dinwiddie being the team's leading scorer and Jordan being its leading rebounder.
Love, of course, is both a capable scorer and rebounder, who has averaged 17.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in 34 games this season. What's more is that his playing style and contract each fit the Nets' contention window, with Kevin Durant expected to return from a torn Achilles injury next season.
Would locking in a core of Durant, Irving and Love for the next three seasons be worth the Nets parting ways with Dinwiddie, Jordan and perhaps Joe Harris or Caris LeVert? And for the Cavs, is that the best offer they could get for Love, either now or this summer?
Those are the questions both Cleveland and Brooklyn would have to ask themselves when discussing a potential deal. But until then, unhappiness for the star players on both teams could persist.