In his first season with the Nets, Kyrie Irving played 20 regular season games due to injury. In the 2020-21 season, he played in 54 games and went AWOL/took personal time in the middle of the season (and paid $1 million in fines for it). Last season Irving played in 29 games, primarily because he refused to get vaccinated, which violated a New York City workers mandate. Irving has played in 45.6% of the Nets games in his three seasons with Brooklyn.
Understandably, the Nets are hesitant to commit long-term to Irving, he has not shown the level of commitment to the franchise GM Sean Marks wants to see (especially from a player on a max contract). Irving rightfully seems himself as one of the game’s elite, an All-NBA talent when on the court whose handles make him an incredible shot creator.
Irving and the Nets are at an impasse in contract negotiations (and have been for a while), and the primary sticking point is years on the contract, reports Brian Lewis at the New York Post.
Brooklyn can make up to 15 percent of Irving’s next contract — about $6 million — payable as “unlikely bonuses,” affording 10 times the protection in his current deal. But sources implied the length of the deal is more of a sticking point than the money; Irving wants a longer contract, while the Nets prefer a shorter one.
It’s easy to imagine Irving walking into these negotiations thinking “I’m a clear max player” and expecting a four-or-five year contract to be on the table, then being surprised the Nets feel the need to protect themselves.
Lewis also echoes in his report what multiple sources have told NBC Sports in the past few days: Everyone around the league still expects the Nets and Irving to work it out. People with other teams see the “leak” to The Athletic about an impasse and potential trade destinations as Irving’s camp trying to gain leverage in the negotiations (which it obviously was). League sources still expect Irving and the Nets to find some middle ground — it’s what’s logical for both sides. However, those same sources almost always throw in a caveat along the lines of “but it’s Kyrie, so who knows.”
The next big step is whether Irving picks up his $36.9 million option for next season. Doing so makes it easier for either Los Angeles team to trade for Irving, however, the Nets would have him committed and wouldn’t have to play along and trade him where he wants to go (both Los Angeles teams are long shots, at best, to land Irving). If he turns down the option Irving becomes an unrestricted free agent, but only the Nets are a realistic option to get to his $43 million max contract starting point (the Knicks would need a sign-and-trade to get there, and the Nets’ price would be steep). The other teams that have or can easily create max cap space — Detroit, Orlando, San Antonio — are not good fits for Irving.
It’s all a big game of chicken. Irving has said he wants to be in Brooklyn, the Nets want to keep Irving’s good friend Kevin Durant happy and they want to contend — they need Irving for both of those. The sides will likely work something out… but it is Kyrie, so who knows.