Brooklyn Nets star point guard Kyrie Irving has exercised his $36 million player option for next season. That means he will not be a free agent this summer and will not be signing a max extension. The team was unwilling to commit to him long-term, given his unreliability. Irving has played in only 103 out of 226 games since he’s been in Brooklyn.
Without the ability to find a sign-and-trade deal, Kyrie Irving plans to exercise his $36M player option for next season and return to the Nets, sources confirm. https://t.co/ShNgQETZpy
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 27, 2022
Irving was asked by Complex Sports if he still wanted to be a member of the Nets. He didn’t give an answer. But when the video was posted on Instagram Irving posted a comment.
“Welcome to the ‘New Media.’ When I smile like that, it means there’s more to the story. I’ll have my time to address things.”
It was also reported on Monday that the Nets are prepared to lose both Irving and two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant. If that is the case it would put an end to a super team that failed to live up to expectations, only advancing past the first round once.
— ESPN (@espn) June 27, 2022
To Nets fans and fans around the NBA it looks like a disaster in Brooklyn, but the reality is owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks appear to be taking back control of their franchise.
You can’t win in the NBA without superstar talent. Everyone knows this, including the superstars. As such they use that knowledge to wield immense power when they are inside an organization. Threatening to leave via free agency or force their way out via trade, if their demands are not met.
It’s a bad way for teams to do business, yet many teams do it anyway.
When the Nets acquired Durant and Irving, part of the deal was the team had to sign their buddy DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, except that was a roster spot for an aging unproductive player and wasted money pushing the team over the salary cap.
At the time Kenny Atkinson was the head coach, and he developed the Nets into a playoff team with players like Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen. Allen was an emerging young big man Atkinson played over Jordan because he was better.
That didn’t sit well with Durant and Irving, and Atkinson stepped down in March 2020. A coach that leads a team to the playoffs and develops talent other teams passed on doesn’t just get fired or step down.
Enter Steve Nash as the Nets head coach. A Hall of Fame player, but someone with zero head coaching experience. He developed a relationship with Durant while the former league MVP was a member of the Warriors. Again, a team doesn’t bring on someone with no coaching experience without the sign-off from its two stars. Durant and Irving wanted Nash because he’d let them do what they want, by and large, and he’d play the veterans.
At the outright behest or tacit approval from Durant and Irving, the Nets traded away Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs and control of their draft from 2021-27 for James Harden. He is now in Philadelphia with the 76ers and played parts of two seasons, with the highlight of the Durant, Harden, Irving big three being a Game 7 loss in the conference semifinals.
In three seasons the Nets are deep into the NBA luxury tax, have no draft capital for the next five years, a superstar point guard in Irving who doesn’t show up to work consistently, a max-salaried player in Ben Simmons (acquired in the Harden trade), and a still-elite Durant who is entering his 15th season in the league.
Not a recipe for success.
This is often the reality of letting superstar players dictate personnel decisions. The Nets would be in much better shape today with Durant, Irving, Allen, LeVert, Dinwiddie and their draft capital.
Tsai is a billionaire ($9 billion), so he has no problem paying the luxury tax for a winner. But this Nets team as currently constructed is not one. He’s a businessman, and will not pay a max contract to an unreliable employee (Irving) or the repeater tax for a team that can’t get past the first round of the playoffs.
The Nets called Irving’s bluff and dared him to opt out of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent and see if he could facilitate a sign and trade. He couldn’t, that’s why he exercised his option. Now, that $36 million is an expiring deal and the team could still move him.
If moving Irving angers Durant, the Nets are OK with that as well. Durant is under contract for four more years at $194 million. At that number the Nets can trade him knowing they would get back a haul in terms of young talent, draft capital and expiring salaries to match Durant’s. That would open up cap space and allow a rebuild to happen faster than it otherwise could.