The next week is shaping up to be a volatile one for Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. You could start a drinking game for every time that lede’s been written this season and you’d end up a vegetable. It may ring hollow, but this one is the most critical game of brinksmanship of his Nets tenure.
A report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania says that an “impasse currently exists among the parties that clears the way for the seven-time All-Star to consider the open marketplace.” Irving has until June 29 to opt into his $36.9 million player option for the final year of his four-year contract. Reportedly, he and the Nets are playing chicken quibbling over details of his extension.
According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Nets prefer a shorter-term incentive-laden deal that would prevent a repeat of his 2021-22 season as opposed to the fully-guaranteed max contract a player of his caliber would demand in the open market. It’s a risky strategy for Brooklyn when, but that’s probably the most prudent way of dealing with Irving in the long term given his unreliability.
The Irving era has felt like it was destined to end in ruin for the past few months and the organization’s first-round exit in a sweep against the Boston Celtics only escalated the doomerism. Irving could surprise by opting in, but at this moment, the Irving doomsday clock is ticking towards midnight.
These countdowns to player opt-ins typically promise explosive ramifications for pending free agency periods and then absolve themselves in a whimper. But when was the last time Irving made anything simple or drama-free?
It’s fitting that Andrew Wiggins expressed the same vaccine skepticism as Irving in the preseason, decided against dying on that ant hill and proceeded to have a legacy-altering career year. Conversely, Irving torched his relationship with the Nets front office, missed over half the season and then got swept by the last franchise he spurned.
It’s hard enough surviving 82 games of regular season basketball over the course of a year without a vainglorious franchise point guard who imagines he’s MLKyrie and voluntarily making himself a healthy DNP to pursue those delusions of grandeur. There’s something to be said for stability from your point guard, and Irving is perpetually a loose branch in a hurricane. You never know where he’s heading next. The uncertainty and emotional rot he manifested cast a cloud over the organization’s title aspirations.
Naturally, the latest news of a divide between Irving and the Nets has spawned an entirely new spate of free agency rumors. Unsurprisingly, the Lakers, Knicks and Clippers are rumored to be suitors for Irving’s services according to Charania. Those three teams have been suitors for more free agents than The Bachelor, but only one destination is realistic.
Irving in Clipperland sounds ideal. The Nets point guard has more respect for Tyronn Lue, whom he won a title playing for in 2016, than he’s shown for a novice head coach like Steve Nash. However, the Lakers and Clippers are also so far over the cap, they would be unable to sign him outright as a free agent, so a sign-and-trade would be the only path forward, but what type of assets do the Clippers have to entice the Nets with? A reunion with LeBron would be a redemptive storyline, but the Lakers are chained to Russell Westbrook for the foreseeable future and have no draft capital to dangle.
Shuffling Irving off to the New York Knicks, the franchise that has become a Manhattan island of misfit toys over the last two decades makes the most sense. Noted workaholic Tom Thibodeau might get a kick out of Irving running an extra practice after he leaves the facility like he was known to do this past season. The mercurial Irving joining forces with a perpetually frustrated Julius Randle or an inconsistent R.J. Barrett, the Ponzi scheme that is Cam Reddish’s potential and a jittery Tom Thibodeau is so toxic it just might work. They have the assets in Barrett or Randle to offer and actually own their 2022 first-round pick, unlike the Clippers and Lakers.
The Knicks have made it a habit of dancing on the brink of disaster, so why change now? Thibodeau pacing the sidelines in mid-January after Irving returns from his annual winter sabbatical would give the Knicks the loose cannons that just might push this franchise over the edge.