Now that the Brooklyn Nets have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant available their championship hopes seem possible again. This season will be a tough, but with Durant committed on paper through the 2025-26 season and Ben Simmons through the 2024-25 season, all that remains is locking up Irving, who starts the final season of his current contract this fall. Should the Nets be thinking about extending their mercurial superstar?
“I think for me, it has always been about being comfortable, loving where I’m at, and I love it here,” Irving said last week. “Once that summertime hits, I know we’ll have some conversations. But there’s no way I can leave my man [Kevin Durant] anywhere.”
Irving began the season refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine that all of his teammates took. As such he could not play in home games at the Barclays Center due to the New York City vaccine mandate. At the time the Nets said they would not have him as a part-time player.
The omicron wave hit in late fall and early winter and the Nets relented, allowed Irving to play part-time in away games. Naturally the questions persisted, how long would this last? Could the team deal with constant change, etc.
On Sunday, for the first time this season, Irving was eligible to play home games. NYC Mayor Eric Adams officially adjusted the private sector vaccine mandate to make unvaccinated players eligible for home games last week.
When Irving and Durant share the floor it is sublime. Irving’s ability to score from anywhere on the court with the highest efficiency is a thing of beauty. Why wouldn’t the Nets want to lock up one of the most skilled players to ever set foot in the NBA?
Because he’s Kyrie Irving …
Long before vaccine mandates, Irving championed himself as a “free thinker.” Someone intellectually curious who isn’t afraid to challenge convention. But that has revealed itself in “the Earth is flat” fiasco and his unwillingness to accept proven epidemiology and science from experts, all because he saw some videos on YouTube that present a different viewpoint.
Irving seems to have things away from basketball that weigh on his mind constantly. To be fair, that’s totally OK. He is allowed to have interests and hobbies away from the court. This isn’t his entire life.
But if you are in the business of building a championship-contending team. You need people 100 percent committed to the goal. Everyone in the boat rowing in the same direction.
Last season Irving missed 11 days and seven games for personal reasons. Everyone is allowed to deal with personal things however they see fit. The problem is, in a team sport like basketball when your stated goal is a championship, your individual decisions impact the entire franchise. Particularly when you are a player of Irving’s caliber.
But let’s leave out vaccine mandates and time off for personal reasons. In 11 NBA seasons, Irving has played 70+ games three times. Those were all in Cleveland before he turned 25.
If you had the chance to sign an unavailable at best and unreliable at worst 29-year old 26 point, six assist per game player at an eFG% of 57 and TS% of 61 to a five year $246 million deal would you do it?
That’s the question Nets general manager Sean Marks is wrestling with.
Irving is a basketball savant, and artist and a scientist on the hardwood. But how many games will the Nets be getting of that unique genius? Can they count on him playing a full season without interruption?
When he and Durant signed on in 2019 they said they wanted to win and build something sustainable in Brooklyn. A sentiment Irving echoed recently.
“As we build, as you see me playing with some guys I’ve had some relationships with in the past, and this is the recipe for success: when you have guys that you’ve known for a while, young guys that are willing to listen, and then a front office that’s willing to do what’s necessary in order to build this thing for the long run,” Irving said. “So that’s the mindset. And that’s where I’m at.”
In order to win championships and build a sustainable franchise you need to be both very good and lucky. It is extremely hard to do, which is why most teams fail. Some things, no matter how hard you try or plan, are just out of your control. But there are things within a team’s control, and choosing to extend Irving is one of them.