- Kyrie Irving can hit free agency this summer and is eligible for a five-year, $200 million+ extension.
- Irving is incredibly talented, but is one of the NBA’s least reliable stars and has hurt the Nets chemistry.
- An NBA exec told Insider that giving Irving a max extension would be “toxic,” but the Nets may have no choice.
The Brooklyn Nets face an unusual dilemma this summer with Kyrie Irving.
The 30-year-old, seven-time All-Star has a player option worth $36.5 million for the 2022-23 season. If he declines it, he’ll hit unrestricted free agency.
Irving is also eligible for a five-year contract extension worth approximately $246 million.
After the Nets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Irving said he wants to be in Brooklyn for the long-term, even saying he considers himself a co-manager of the franchise.
“I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving said.
“When I say I’m here with Kevin [Durant], I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe [Tsai] and Sean [Marks].”
Three years into this era headlined by Durant and Irving, the Nets have just one playoff series win. On the heels of a first-round sweep following a rocky regular season, the Nets now have to weigh making a gigantic financial commitment to one of the game’s most talented, but least reliable players.
“He’s the highest-risk, highest-reward superstar,” a front office executive at a Western Conference team told Insider. “There’s nobody riskier than him. And there’s very, very few that are as good as he is when he is good.”
Irving has been with the Nets for three seasons, each one marked by turbulence — not all of which was his fault.
The 2019-20 season was cut short by the pandemic, and Irving was injured when the Nets went to the Disney bubble.
He began the 2020-21 season by refusing to speak to media before eventually getting fined by the NBA. He later took a sudden two-week break in January and was punished when he was seen maskless at a party. Irving got injured in the playoffs and the short-handed Nets fell to the Milwaukee Bucks.
This season, Irving’s decision not to get a COVID-19 vaccine threw the Nets into tumult. He was unavailable to play home games until March because of New York City mandates, and the Nets kept him out of road games until January.
His unavailability reportedly wore on James Harden, who later requested a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers, breaking up the Nets’ Big 3 after just one season together.
However, when Irving has been on the floor, he’s been brilliant. Over the past two season he has averaged 27 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game while shooting 49% from the floor and 41% from three. He’s one of the most dynamic one-on-one scorers in the NBA, and his playmaking kicks the Nets offense into a new gear. His absence is felt when he’s not on the floor.
Unfortunately, for the Nets, that’s often been the case: Irving has played just 116 combined regular-season and playoff games in the past 246 over the last three years, making just 47% of possible appearances.
The Western Conference executive Insider spoke to said that in an ideal world, the Nets would offer Irving an extension laden with incentives for games played.
But the Nets may not have that luxury. Contrary to some reports that Irving has had a limited trade market and few suitors, this executive believes that if Irving hit free agency, a team would pursue him with a max offer.
The executive pointed to the New York Knicks — desperate for a point guard and a star player — as a team that could open up cap space to pursue Irving if he was available.
The Nets are in a difficult position because they have no other resources to replace Irving. They have no salary cap space and they owe the Houston Rockets several future draft picks, thanks to the Harden trade in January 2021.
There is also the matter of keeping Durant happy. Irving and Durant are close friends and joined the Nets together in free agency in 2019. Though Durant hasn’t publicly called for the Nets to re-sign Irving, it’d be risky for the Nets to anger their best player by letting one of his best friends leave the team.
This may leave Brooklyn little choice but to give Irving a four- or five-year max extension, with the four-year extension landing somewhere in the range of $190 million.
Giving Irving that type of contract is one thing; trading him once he’s in the midst of that deal will be another challenge, as few teams will be able to take on such a deal, let alone be interested in taking it. Presumably, if the Nets are looking to trade Irving when he’s on that deal, it also means something has gone wrong.
“As soon as he gets that contract, absolutely nobody’s going to want it,” the same executive told Insider. “I mean, it will be an absolutely toxic contract.”
“Nobody wants to be on the hook for $45-50 million a year to a dude you just don’t know what you’re gonna get.”
It’s not all doom-and-gloom for the Nets, however. For much of the year they were considered championship contenders, and when they fell in the standings, many considered them a terrifying low-seed capable of pulling off upsets.
They ran into a buzzsaw in the first round of the playoffs in the Boston Celtics, the best team in the league over the last two months of the season. Even then, the Nets lost Game 1 at the buzzer and blew a seven-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 2. A few different bounces could have made their first-round sweep a much different series.
Irving and Durant have good chemistry, and both are well-liked around the league: they are likely to attract players willing to take pay cuts to play with them and compete for a championship.
But then, no one is questioning how good the Nets can be — it’s whether such a massive investment in Irving, as he and Durant reach their mid-30s, will allow the Nets to actually get there.
“You’re sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” the executive said of re-signing Irving, adding: “I’m really grateful I’m not in a position to have to make that decision.”
Courtesy By INSIDER