Brooklyn Boro

Nets may move on from Kyrie Irving

Team reportedly 'unwilling' to give superstar long-term deal

May 26, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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The Brooklyn Nets had plenty of excuses for not winning an NBA championship last year, or even a single playoff game.

Kyrie Irving only participated in 29 games, either due to his non-vaccination status or injury.

Kevin Durant missed a month and a half of the campaign due to a knee injury, which sunk the Nets into a 3-14 funk when they still boasted the best record in the Eastern Conference.

James Harden was hardly heartened by Irving’s non-vaccinated stance and when Durant fell to injury, the Nets’ third superstar forced the team to trade him out of Brooklyn to Philadelphia.

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Joe Harris played 14 games before sitting out the remainder of the season due to a bad left ankle that had to be surgically repaired.

Ben Simmons, the main cog in the trade-deadline deal for Harden, never played a single minute for the Nets as he struggled with mental health issues and a bad back.

So for the first time in their NBA careers, both Durant and Irving were unable to advance beyond the first round as Boston swept Brooklyn out of the playoffs.

Now, the Nets may not even have two superstars, or even one, if a Daily News report indicating the team’s desire to stay away from a long-term deal with Irving is true.

Kevin Durant and the Nets had their championship aspirations spoiled by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs. AP Photo by John Minchillo

Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks may have fired the first salvo in orating the Nets’ disenchantment with Irving after he played 20 games in his debut season with the team in 2019-20 and 54 contests in 2020-21.

Last year was an aberration as Irving insisted he would remain vaxx-free until New York City changed its COVID-19 protocols.

That left him eligible for road games only, leaving Harden to fend for himself without either of his fellow superstars when Durant was out.

But Marks made it clear that the vaccine issue was not one that would impact Irving in free agency unless, of course, he ducked in and out of the lineup with mysterious ailments and personal issues.

“We’re looking for guys that want to come in here and be a part of something bigger than themsleves, play selfless, play team basketball and be available,” Marks said two weeks ago.

“And that goes not only for Kyrie, but everyone here,” he added.

Regardless of what Marks says, Irving has been an issue here in Brooklyn as well as Boston and Cleveland, his previous two stops of note.

If Nets owner Joe Tsai decides to bring Irving back, it would cost the team up to $240 million over the next five years. If Irving is not re-signed, he can still opt into his player option for next season and make $37 million.

The other option is that Irving declines his player option next month and becomes and unrestricted free agent.

That might tweak Durant, who has been all in for Brooklyn since walking into the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park when he was recovering from an Achilles injury in 2019.

Harden’s departure, Simmons’ questionable status for next season and Irving’s ongoing situation could sway the two-time NBA Finals MVP to ask for a trade of his own.

But Marks must confer with his owner as well as Durant before anything becomes official.

“At the end of the day, I mean more often than not, it’s myself making those decisions,” Marks noted. “It’s not me going to Kevin and saying, ‘Do you want this person?’ … I don’t think that’s fair to place that on Kevin.

“He will know ahead of time what we’re doing, what we plan on doing with, to be honest with the entire roster.”

The entire roster may be overhauled this summer if Irving and the Nets can’t see eye-to-eye on a long-term deal.

“I think those are going to be discussions,” Marks noted. “It’s a team sport and you need everybody out there on the court.”

Marks also indicated that he hasn’t begun discussions with either Tsai or Irving just yet.

“We have not had a conversation yet,” Marks said in a televised interview. “So I look forward to getting in a room with him and Joe and his team, and we will. We’ll see what it looks like for Kyrie moving forward here, and what he needs from us and so forth.”

“We haven’t had those conversations with Kyrie yet. But when they do (happen), we’ll see if it’s the right fit for both sides.”

General manager Sean Marks will have plenty of questions to answer in the month ahead regarding Kyrie Irving’s pending free-agent status. AP Photo by Matt Slocum

A wait-and -see approach toward a player that was supposed to help Durant bring Brooklyn its first major pro sports championship since 1955 doesn’t sound encouraging.

But with a month to go before he can opt in or out, Irving will be heard from at some point and then the Nets can figure out what to do with their roster going forward.

It will either be more team building or perhaps rebuilding here in Downtown Brooklyn.

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