Kyrie Irving decided to opt into his player-option worth $36.5 million on June 27th, putting an end to all the drama and chaos surrounding the Brooklyn Nets in free agency. It was widely speculated that Irving would opt out of his contract to chase a bigger deal with the Nets, or leave the team in unrestricted free agency. However, the Nets were wary to give Irving a long-term deal, based on his past inconsistencies. Irving tried his best to obtain the upper hand, making it clear that MVP Kevin Durant would likely leave along with him. He even gave the Nets a list of his preferred sign and trade destinations.
Unfortunately for Irving, NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski came back with a humble dose of reality, stating that no team was actively pursuing Irving, with the exception of the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James wanted to reunite with Irving (and hopefully dump Russell Westbrook in the process), but Irving would have to sign a $6 million deal for that to happen, or the Lakers would have to trade so many contracts in a sign and trade that they would be left with fewer players then needed to field a starting five.
Irving isn’t stupid, and knows he only has a certain amount of time to maximize the money he can make in the NBA. So, with $36.5 million still available, he made a wise decision to opt-in.
Unfortunately for me, I was in the middle of writing an article detailing how all the teams on Irving’s sign and trade list could acquire him, and if it was at all plausible to do so. Irving’s relationship with the Nets appeared to be getting more and more distant by the day, and I was sure a breakup was inevitable. But they’ve postponed that … for now.
Here’s what I had originally written about Irving and his fractured relationship with the Nets, before he opted into the player option:
Brooklyn has very solid reasoning for being hesitant to offer Irving a max contract; he’s incredibly inconsistent. When he’s on the floor, the product is great, but he missed well over half the season because he refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors, who also was against the vaccine, decided to take it so he could help his team, and look how that turned out.
Irving is also not the most consistent guy when it comes to showing up, and he chafes under leadership. For example, Irving went MIA for multiple days during 2020-21 season, citing “personal reasons” for his absence. However, it was later revealed that he spent three days partying with his family to celebrate the birthdays of his father and sister. By doing this, Irving violated league COVID-19 protocols, lost $50,000 in salary, and was forced to forfeit his salary for the two games he missed.
When Steve Nash was hired to coach Kevin Durant and Irving in Brooklyn, the initial soundbites weren’t good from Irving, as he caused a stir by saying he didn’t really see the team having a head coach (if you want to watch Steven A’s head explode as he tries to comprehend what Irving said, then click here; it’s a great watch). A few years later and that sentiment hasn’t really changed, as shown by this shocking report detailing that Irving would hold his own practices with teammates once Nash had finished. If that isn’t some of the most blatant disrespect I’ve seen towards a coach in my life, then I don’t know what is.
It’s reasons like this which make Nets GM Sean Marks hesitant to pay Irving so highly. However, Irving and Durant are good friends, and both of them want to be competing for championships. Irving knows that if he leaves in free agency, then Durant will likely request a trade too if his supporting cast is terrible, Ben Simmons be damned. However, recent reports like this one from the New York Times suggest Durant would stay as long as the team proved they had a plan to contend for a title. At the end of the day, Durant just wants to play competitive basketball and compete for a championship.
Irving is taking a gamble by being this brash with the front office, giving them a list of teams that he would accept a sign and trade to. If Irving were to leave the Nets, then he would likely be taking a significant pay cut. However, we’ve seen Irving do stranger things.
Of course, now we know that Irving isn’t taking that pay cut, and maximizing the opportunity to make as much money as he can. But, I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of the Brooklyn Nets saga.
Don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!