The Nets can play the game of NBA brinksmanship, too.
For days it has seemed like Kyrie Irving has been the one ratcheting up the pressure, testing the Nets’ resolve to not just give him the max (years, not just money). Irving’s camp started talking about opting in and trades, and went so far as to put out a list of destinations he wants to play. Irving’s camp also (intentionally or not) brought the threat of Kevin Durant leaving as well to the table. Irving’s greatest leverage was always that not giving him the contract he wanted would blow up the Nets’ grand experiment.
The Nets say they can live with that.
“They would rather lose them both than go through what they went through last season, which was a miserable season under the situation that Kyrie Irving contributed to creating.”
The Nets also told Irving to go ahead and find a trade he wanted (although it has to work for Brooklyn, too). Irving reportedly wants to head to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James again, but the Nets are not going to take Russell Westbrook back, making a trade insanely difficult to pull off. Irving can go to the Lakers for the $6.4 million taxpayer midlevel exception, but that would be leaving more than $30 million on the table next season (and potential future money if he wants to re-sign with the Lakers).
Nets owner Joseph Tsai and GM Sean Marks are smart men — when they first drew a line in the sand and said they would not offer Irving a long-term contract, they knew this could play out this way. There is zero chance the idea of Irving and Durant leaving was not discussed before embarking down this road. But Tsai was frustrated with the financial losses of his team — which an extra $100 million in luxury tax will do to the bottom line — and not getting any result for it. Plus, Tsai was a big pro-vaccine person and Irving flew in the face of that.
The Nets knew what they were doing. They have made it clear they are not backing down in this game of chicken. If Irving wants to leave for far less money, so be it. But the Nets want some control back of their team and their situation, and they will get it one way or another.
The big test comes Wednesday (June 29), when Irving has to pick up his $36.9 million option for next season or become an unrestricted free agent (in a market with very little cap space).