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Kyrie, Nets at extension impasse; Lakers, Knicks and Clippers lurking

Negotiations between Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets are not going well, and the point guard could be on the move in the upcoming free agency period.

Nov 12, 2019; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) dribbles up the court during the second half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russell IsabellaUSA TODAY Sports

Once again, it’s Kyrie Irving in the headlines. Once again, uncertainty surrounds the point guard. One of the greatest offensive talents in NBA history, and one of the most stylish players ever to have set foot on a basketball court - but also one of the game’s most complicated personalities. After the Nets were thumped 4-0 in the first round of the Playoffs by the Celtics, one of Irving’s former teams, a franchise he left because he failed to fit in in Boston, his complex situation moved into the background. But with free agency now less than two weeks away, that couldn’t last. Shams Charania of The Athletic has revealed that Irving and the Nets are at an impasse and are unable to come to an agreement about an extension, leaving Irving potentially about to go out onto the market. And, of course, the usual suitors are lurking: the Lakers, the Knicks, the Clippers.

Irving is no longer a player his team can rely on

Irving, as we all know, has gone from being simply a free spirit to being a downright problem for his team, which fell well short of expectations last season, lost James Harden along the way and saw the third year of Kevin Durant and Irving in Brooklyn go up in smoke. In practice, it was the second, if you consider that Durant didn’t play at all in his first season with the franchise, because of an Achilles tendon injury suffered in the 2019 Finals. But in contractual terms, it’s the third. In August, Durant signed a four-year, $198m extension. The Nets wanted to sort out the futures of their ‘big three’, but nothing turned out as they had hoped: Harden didn’t extend his contract and ended up being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, a direct rival. A deal hasn’t been reached with Irving, either. The Nets were going to offer him $187m over four more years, but withdrew their proposal.

The issue of Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated torpedoed the team’s form, ruined the chemistry in the locker room and ended any hopes of forming a compact on-court unit. The point guard missed 35 regular-season games in Brooklyn, an absence that cost him as much as $13.3m. The Nets only punished him for games missed on home court, which he couldn’t play because of New York City covid-19 regulations. He wasn’t fined for the road games he sat out, as it was the team’s decision to leave him out, having begun the season aiming to avoid a circus before finally doing a volte-face and bringing him back into the fold. It’s also worth noting that, because of a disagreement with Nike, the brand won’t be continuing its sponsorship of Irving beyond the summer, causing him to lose a contract that was worth around $11m a year to the player. Money up in smoke, together with that Nets extension that now needs to be re-negotiated. The problem is that Irving, one of the most influential players in the NBA when he’s on court and focused on his game, is no longer someone his team can rely on. In three seasons in Brooklyn, he has averaged 27.2 points, 6.1 assists and 40% on three-pointers. But he has played 103 out of a possible 216 regular-season games.

After the Nets were eliminated by the Celtics, Irving insisted that he wouldn’t be leaving Brooklyn. In the past, however, he’s insisted he wouldn’t be leaving Boston, only to do just that a few months later. And that’s after he departed the Cavaliers because he didn’t like living in the shadow of LeBron James, despite the pair winning the NBA championship in 2016, producing a legendary comeback to beat the Warriors. The problem for the Nets is that, on the one hand, a focused Irving is a unique talented and key to their hopes of winning the title. And, of course, the point guard is close friends with Durant, and a parting of ways with him could have a devastating effect on their number-one star… unless Durant also senses that their relationship is coming to the end (at least professionally). The Nets want to keep hold of Durant’s chief sidekick, but don’t want to mortgage their future on a player who they clearly no longer fully trust.

Irving (right) with Kevin Durant.
Full screen
Irving (right) with Kevin Durant.AL BELLOAFP

Knicks could take Irving as free agent; Lakers, Clippers would need sign and trade deal

Irving has a $36.9m player option. If he rejects that and goes out onto the market, the Nets could offer him a maximum of five years and $245m, more than anyone else. Crazy money. Under such a deal, he would earn $58.1m in the 2026/27 season. The player, of course, doesn’t want a short-term deal that limits his guaranteed money, leading to the report by Charania, evidence of the confrontation between the two sides ahead of the free agency period. If Irving goes onto the market as a free agent, that could open the door for a move to the Knicks, who are in a position to pay his salary. The Lakers (where he would be reunited with LeBron) and the Clippers would need him to take up his player option and then sign an extension with the Nets, then make the switch on a sign and trade deal. For now, it all looks more like a clash of interests, leaks to the media designed to put the pressure on. But if an agreement isn’t forthcoming, we could be about to witness a big-name market movement in the NBA.

See also: Meet the top three NBA Draft prospects


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