Inside the Kyrie Irving-Nets negotiations and the future in Brooklyn

featured image

With the eyes of the basketball world on the Nets and their potential superstar breakup, Kyrie Irving put an end to the speculation on Monday.

The seven-time All-Star will opt into his $37 million player option for the 2022-23 season to fulfill his four-year contract signed in 2019, as well as his commitment to the franchise and Kevin Durant, who joined Irving in Brooklyn in the summer of 2019. Even as Durant has seriously mulled his future with the franchise, according to sources, Irving bypassed pursuing multiple scenarios where he could have opted in to his deal and been traded ahead of the Wednesday opt-in deadline.

Irving is returning to Brooklyn, and should owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks decide to run back the big three of Durant, Irving and Ben Simmons, the Nets will have an opportunity to compete for a championship. However, ever since the season-ending sweep against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs without Simmons and Joe Harris and a hobbled Seth Curry, underlying issues have persisted throughout these Nets. That festered into the future of Irving and the contract discussions that ended in him deciding to return for next season, and most recently, whether Durant’s evaluation of the franchise could push him away.

Irving’s agent, Shetellia Riley Irving, and the Nets front office held extensive and productive extension discussions over the past six days, with sources on both sides describing good-faith negotiations to reach a new deal. The Nets and Shetellia Riley Irving worked through various proposals, including a two-year max extension that included incentives based on games played as well as a four-year max that included two years guaranteed and triggers for years three and four based on the games played in years one and two, sources said. Irving showed a willingness to accept an incentive-based deal before a final counter was made to the Nets, according to sources: a short-term contract extension protecting both sides with a player option. Brooklyn declined.

Durant has maintained publicly that he and Irving would remain friends no matter the outcome of these negotiations, but the Nets understood their close bond as they entered talks with Irving on an incentive-laden deal.

The Nets and Irving did come close to an agreement late last week, sources said, before talks stalled out.

Sources said Irving had three potential opt-in-and-trade options available to pursue before making his final decision. Across the league, there are only five teams with projected salary-cap space: Detroit, San Antonio, Orlando, Indiana and New York, with all wanting to build around younger players or prioritizing other free agents. For their part, the Lakers were much more motivated to have Irving sign as a free agent than they were in acquiring the three-time All-NBA guard via trade, sources said. And as Irving went through his opt-in-and-trade options — as well as the potential of joining the Lakers in free agency — the decision to return to Brooklyn crystalized.

The focus now turns to the Nets, players desiring to stay committed to the task at hand and whether Tsai and Marks are able to repair the issues that led to several teams across the league preparing for the prospect of both Durant and Irving being traded this week. There are real matters of contention that need to be addressed among Nets ownership, management and players, multiple sources said, and the Nets could still decide to move Irving this offseason or next season. Will Tsai and Marks elect to rebuild and start from scratch — or can all sides restore relationships and have the roster retooled around Durant, Irving and Simmons and role players such as Harris, Curry and Nic Claxton?

After teams across the league prepared for Irving’s potential departure, the question has become: How will Irving’s decision Monday impact Durant? The 12-time All-Star has four guaranteed seasons worth close to $200 million on his contract, signing the full max extension last summer as a sign of commitment to the Nets. Next season, Brooklyn is also set to have a healthy Simmons, Harris and Curry, the makings of a title-contending roster.

Several teams are expected to continue to pursue Irving via trade, but his opt-in makes clubs consider more closely whether to trade assets in a deal for a player who will enter unrestricted free agency in 2023. Teams across the league understand Irving’s talent, and now a full season in 2022-23 allows him the opportunity to prove himself once again, then return to the market and earn a maximum contract next summer. Multiple sources with knowledge of his decision said Irving wants to prioritize winning a championship next season and show why he’s one of the best players in the league.

For now, Irving is back in Brooklyn. These Nets still have serious matters on their hands in order to sort out the direction of the franchise.

Related reading

Leroux: Answering CBA questions around Kyrie Irving’s decision
Schiffer: What Kyrie Irving’s decision means for the Nets

(Top photo: David Butler II / USA Today)