Kyrie Irving and the Nets appear to be heading toward divorce, and the fallout could create a wild NBA off-season
- UPDATE: Kyrie Irving has decided to opt into his $36.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season, thus delaying his free agency for another year, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
- Kyrie Irving and the Nets are at odds over a new contract, and Irving may be looking to leave.
- Irving's options are limited, but his talent is so great that teams may still pursue him.
UPDATE: Kyrie Irving has decided to opt into his $36.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season, thus delaying his free agency for another year, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
—Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 27, 2022
The Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant era in Brooklyn may soon be over.
The New York Daily News' Kristian Winfield reported on Monday that the Brooklyn Nets have granted Irving permission to seek sign-and-trade options this off-season.
The report comes after The Athletic's Shams Charania previously reported that Irving and the Nets had hit an "impasse" over contract talks. Irving has a $36 million player option for the 2022-23 season and has been discussing extensions with the Nets. A five-year max extension for Irving would be worth over $240 million.
Brooklyn has reportedly been unwilling to offer Irving a full max extension without financial concessions from Irving, like incentives or non-guaranteed years.
However, Winfield reports that the Nets "do not believe Irving is committed to doing what it takes to be on the floor every game" and that the belief around the league is that Irving is done in Brooklyn.
Since signing with the Nets in free agency in 2019, Irving has played a total of just 103 regular season games. He's missed significant time to injuries and personal reasons, then last year, he played in just 29 games because he did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and thus, was ineligible to play home games in New York City because of local mandates.
If Irving does indeed intend to leave the Nets, it sets up a potentially wild off-season around the league.
Irving doesn't have an easy way out
Irving could decline his player option for next season and hit free agency this summer.
However, only a few teams currently have the cap space to offer Irving close to a max contract, and they aren't big-market teams or contenders: the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs.
Teams could attempt to open up more cap space for Irving. The New York Knicks — one of Irving's preferred destinations, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski — are one team to watch. They'll have approximately $16 million in cap space and intend to open up more to pursue free agent point guard Jalen Brunson. They could use that flexibility to sign Irving if they miss on Brunson.
The Lakers also loom as a potential landing place (of sorts). The Lakers could only sign Irving to the mid-level exception worth $6 million per season. It would be a massive pay cut for Irving, but the Lakers have very few assets to deal to the Nets. Yet, according to Wojnarowski, the Lakers are the only team currently interested in trying to get Irving via sign-and-trade, and The Athletic reported that some within the league believe Irving truly wants to land with the Lakers.
Such a move could tilt the scales around the league, with Irving reuniting with LeBron James and giving the Lakers an injection of youth, scoring, and playmaking that they have been missing.
Irving has been unreliable in Brooklyn and arguably damaged his reputation in recent years, but he's played elite basketball when he's been available. History suggests that would be enough to sway teams.
As one Western Conference executive told Insider in May: "[Irving] is the highest-risk, highest-reward superstar. There's nobody riskier than him. And there's very, very few that are as good as he is when he is good."
The Kevin Durant sweepstakes
Hanging over the Irving-Nets standoff is the future of Durant.
Durant and Irving are close friends and joined the Nets together in 2019. After being swept out of the first round of the playoffs, Irving said he viewed he and Durant as co-owners who could help manage the team.
According to Wojnarowski, Durant is an "advocate" for Irving to receive a full, max extension from the Nets.
However, Durant recently said on "The ETCs" podcast that he hasn't been involved in Irving's negotiations.
"There's no involvement at all," Durant said. "I mean, I can't be involved with — this is this man's livelihood, you know? This is much bigger than me. Being a free agent is one of the most important times in your career. That can't be swayed by anybody else ... It's something that's so much out of my control that I don't want to be a part of it."
Still, the Nets certainly risk alienating their best player if they let Irving leave. ESPN's Brian Windhorst said as much on Monday, saying the Nets "putting out there" that they are "prepared to lose both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant."
If Durant becomes available, it could launch one of the biggest sweepstakes the NBA has seen.
Durant may very well be the best player in the league. Though he will turn 34 this season, his play hasn't dropped off, and he's under contract for four more years.
ESPN's Zach Lowe predicted on "Get Up" that trade packages for Durant could be some of the biggest in league history, including multiple draft picks, star players, and young players.
Indeed, Wojnarowski reported that teams across the league are already preparing for the possibility of Durant requesting a trade from the Nets.
It's an almost unthinkable turn of events for the Nets. They entered last season as the championship favorites, boasting a Big Three of Durant, Irving, and James Harden.
Harden, of course, asked out of Brooklyn in February, bothered, in part, by Irving's absences.
One year later, it's possible that Durant and Irving will follow him out, potentially turning the NBA world upside down in the process.
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