Kyrie Irving sees himself as one of the game’s elite players, one deserving of a four- or five-year max contract. Brooklyn Nets management — after watching Irving play 103 of 226 games over three seasons and not seem fully committed to the franchise — don’t want to extend him past a couple of years. Nets owner Joe Tsai has backed the hardline stance (at least so far).
“This is getting acrimonious,” said Wojnarowksi of the talks. “I think that’s the concern when you look at not only Kyrie Irving’s future in Brooklyn, but Kevin Durant‘s future and whether they can hold this thing together right now.”
When Irving gave the Nets a list of other places he wanted to play — or at least made that list public — it was a sign this negotiation had crossed the Rubicon and there may be no turning back.
Other teams have taken notice and quietly started to plan for Kevin Durant trades, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on The Lowe Post podcast.
“Teams are already operating under the, not the assumption, but we need to prepare for the contingency Kevin Durant is available via trade in six days, or seven days.”
Everyone involved seems to be taking stock of their relationship and deciding if they want to continue it into the future.
One overlooked angle in all this is Nets owner Tsai firing the team’s CEO over mounting financial losses for the franchise. While Tsai can be frustrated with ticket sales and sponsorship revenue not being as high as he expects or wants, the Nets will have an estimated $98 million luxury tax bill this season for their player payroll, the second highest in the NBA (behind Golden State). That’s where the losses mount — and for a team swept out of the playoffs in the first round. Those financial issues may have Tsai willing to back a more hardline stance by management on a player in Irving they feel has not been committed enough to winning.
Durant has four years and $192 million as his contract extension kicks in next season, limiting his leverage to force his way to a specific team if he wants out.
And that is still an “if” — while the general perception is Durant will ask out if Irving leaves, it may depend on what the Nets get back in a sign-and-trade and what other moves they make. Durant wants to win, wants a ring, and if he feels Nets ownership is not willing to spend to get that, his eye will wander. But he will be patient.
It had felt for a long time that the most likely outcome was the Nets and Irving would stop their game of chicken, figure out a middle ground and get a deal done. Not any more. This has gotten acrimonious and gone too far, and the big drama this offseason may prove to be where the Nets stars end up playing next and how the Brooklyn franchise moves forward.
The big date to watch: June 29. That’s when Irving has to decide to opt in to his $36.9 million for next season or become a free agent (opting in makes trades to the Lakers or Knicks much easier).