Kyrie Irving picking up his $36.9 million option to stay with the Nets next season didn’t end the drama between him and Brooklyn. It just kicked it down the road a little.
All the questions — around the length and dollars of a new contract/extension for Irving, his desire to find a way to join LeBron James on the Lakers (something a source told NBC Sports is real), Irving’s relationship with Kevin Durant and how KD will react if Irving leaves Brooklyn — are still all on the table. They will play out next season and into next summer.
Irving’s latest comments on the matter and everything else came from a video he posted from North Dakota, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Read into them whatever you wish.
“This is a great moment in my spiritual path, being present enough to understand that it’s not me doing all this. At this point I’m being pushed in certain directions,” Irving said, adding, “You can’t be afraid to make mistakes, in private or out in the open. The mistakes that you do make, you’ve got to learn from them.”
The Nets’ first challenge this fall is to rebuild the franchise culture that made Irving and Durant want to go there in the first place — which must come from inside the locker room. Coach Steve Nash has to work with Irving and Durant on it.
Brooklyn owner Joseph Tsai and GM Sean Marks want to change what they now see as an overly-permissive culture with their superstars — something ESPN’s Brian Windhorst talked about on “Get Up” — but they need Irving’s buy-in to get him to treat teammates and coaches differently (for the record, teammates generally love him). Team culture isn’t imposed top-down; it is built over time and has to start with the team’s best players. Stephen Curry sets the Warriors culture, LeBron James the Lakers’ culture (and Kobe Bryant before him), Tim Duncan set the Spurs culture, and the list goes on and on. Durant and Irving need to set the tone in Brooklyn.
The Nets “won” their game of chicken with Irving and got what they wanted: Him on a short contract with a motivation to play a lot and play well heading into unrestricted free agency. Nets ownership and management sent the message they were not happy with the commitment from Irving in recent years.
But to get that they created tension and distrust — and that may not be able to be repaired.
The Nets are betting that “winning cures all ills” and it will bring this team together. It’s not hard to picture: A healthy and committed Irving and Durant, a healthy Ben Simmons willing to accept a role, a healthy Joe Harris plus Seth Curry, plus good role players (and they can add more with a couple of trade exceptions and the taxpayer mid-level exception) and this team is a title contender. If the Nets start fast and are at or near the top of the East by Christmas, maybe it all comes together this season and beyond.
Or, maybe they get off to a slow start, there is infighting and frustrated/pouting players, and it all goes sideways, leaving the Nets looking for Irving trade options at the deadline.
Irving to the Lakers is not off the table. Maybe if things do go poorly in Brooklyn this season the Nets would consider an Irving for Russell Westbrook plus draft picks swap, and perhaps the Lakers would be open to it (there are a lot of “ifs” to get there, but it’s not impossible). If a residency in Los Angeles is truly what Irving wants he is a free agent next offseason, and while the Lakers still will not have Irving-level cap space (they can get to about $20 million) Los Angeles will have the flexibility to likely work something out (flexibility they did not have this summer because of past decisions).
All of that means the drama, the soap opera around Kyrie Irving and the Nets is far, far from over.
At least some of it will shift to on-the-court issues starting in the fall.