The war of words and spin is escalating between Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, with reports yesterday that the sides were at an “impasse” in contract extension negotiations.
Now comes a report about Irving’s fit and tensions with the Nets, courtesy of ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on his show First Take Monday (hat tip Bleacher Report):
“Did you know that this brother Kyrie Irving last season would conduct his own practices? So when Steve Nash had the team on the floor, and they practiced, they would finish and he’d go and get five guys and conduct his own practice. … Do you have any idea how disrespectful that is to Steve Nash?”
My takeaways from the latest Irving news:
• The “impasse” report Monday clearly leaked out of Irving’s camp as a negotiation tactic. Nets’ GM Sean Marks had said he wanted more of a commitment from Irving. Despite all the games missed and distractions the past couple of years, Irving expected a four-or-five-year max offer on the table, and it is not there, or Marks has incentives/strings attached (games played to reach a full max, maybe). Whatever the Nets are offering, it’s not what Irving wanted.
• This leak about Irving at practice was aimed at undercutting Irving’s credibility and bolstering the Nets’ position for whatever offer they made (and in the court of public opinion, my perception is most fans would back the Nets here).
• In most cases, I would say this is simply public negotiations and the two sides will work out a deal — Irving said he wanted to stay with Kevin Durant and the Nets both can’t replace him and don’t want to anger KD — but Irving is the most unpredictable player in the league. He walked away from more than $17 million last season because he refused to get vaccinated. If one player — one proven to have a wandering eye — were going to buck conventional wisdom and take less to leave a good situation, it would be Irving.
• Nobody knows what happens next.
• On June 29 we will have our first real indication of where things are headed — that’s the day Irving has to decide whether or not to opt into his $36.5 million for next season. If he opts in (taking less than the max extension he wants), it sets up trades, if he does not it’s a sign he’s worked out a new deal and that would only happen with the Nets. (The teams that could create the cap space to sign him as a max free agent, such as Detroit or Indiana, are not places Irving will go.)
• Of the three teams mentioned as interested in Irving — the Knicks, Clippers, and Lakers — it is by far the easiest to put together a trade with the Clippers. Irving would have to opt into his $36.5 million for next season (a pure sign-and-trade would trigger the hard cap and the Clippers couldn’t get below it), but the Clippers have solid players to send to the Nets — Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris among others — and the would extend Irving at whatever price and years he wanted. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Irving, and still decent depth, the Clippers would be clear title contenders.
• The Knicks could make it work but the deal strips New York of its depth. Players such as Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Evan Fournier, and others could be in the trade and it would leave the Knicks with Irving, RJ Barrett, and likely Julius Randle (although whether he returns is still a question). This keeps Irving in New York but on a team fighting to avoid the play-in not contending for a ring. Is that what he wants?
• A LeBron James and Irving reunion is a great headline, and this seems about the only path for a Lakers return to contention, but putting together a trade is exceedingly difficult. Again Irving would have to opt-in, but the Lakers don’t have a way to both match salary and tempt the Nets. Throwing in Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn (assuming he opts in as expected) and two unprotected first-round picks (2027 and 2029) is a starting point, but it doesn’t get near the salary requirements. Russell Westbrook has to be part of the trade, but then a third team (likely Oklahoma City) has to get involved, and the Lakers don’t have the picks and players to both make the Nets happy and have enough sweeteners to get OKC to take on a bunch of extra salary (they would want additional firsts to take on Westbrook’s contract). Lakers fans on Twitter are desperately trying to come up with workable scenarios, but they all fall short.
• Most likely, Irving and the Nets will work something out. Both sides are better with each other. That would happen with most players — but Irving is not most players.