Just how committed are the Nets and Kyrie Irving to one another long-term? That’s an honest conversation between Nets ownership and the superstar guard — and it’s a conversation the two sides have yet to have.
Irving said in his exit media session after the Celtics swept the Nets out of the first round that he wants to be a Net long-term, that he “doesn’t plan on going anywhere,” that he wants to co-manage the franchise alongside owner Joe Tsai, general manager Sean Marks and cornerstone superstar Kevin Durant.
But given the drama that has surrounded Irving virtually every step of the way since his arrival in Brooklyn, do the Nets feel the same way?
“I think that’s something we’ve been discussing and we will continue to debrief on and discuss throughout this offseason,” Marks said during Wednesday’s end-of-the-season press conference at the HSS Training Facility in Industry City, noting the Nets have a number of free agents to speak with this offseason. “We haven’t had any of those discussions yet so it would be unfair for me to comment on how it looks with us and Kyrie.”
Irving is in line to sign a five-year max contract worth $245 million, but he would have to decline the player option on the final year of his contract to sign such a deal (as we covered in Nets’ Offseason Chronicle No. 2). It remains to be seen, however, whether or not the Nets are interested in inking Irving to such an expensive and lengthy contract, though Marks said Irving’s perceived lack of commitment to basketball is something of concern for the front office.
“100 percent. We have to factor all of that in. Honestly, where we are, when you’re giving someone a minimum contract and it doesn’t pan out, it still factors into how you’re building a roster,” Marks said. “So certainly, when you’re looking at players that are making $30-40 million dollars, you have to factor in everything. That’s the hard part of the business. We can all see what they can do on the court. It’s one thing when you’re evaluating players, whether it’s at the college level or the pros. What makes them tick? What drives them? Do they want to be part of this? Are they motivated by something that’s not good for the whole team? So those are questions we’re going to have to ask ourselves and also ask players that we wanna bring back here.”
“I think we know what we’re looking for,” he later added. “We’re looking for guys that want to come in here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selfless, play team basketball, and be available. That goes not only for Kyrie but for everybody here.”
Irving has yet to string together a complete season since signing a four-year max in Brooklyn in the summer of 2019. The star guard only played 20 games due to injury in his first year in Brooklyn, missed games for personal reasons (including a two-week, emotional absence following the capitol insurrection) in Year 2, and missed games due to his unwillingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Year 3.
It’s quite frankly unclear how high on the totem pole of life basketball ranks for Irving, who has made it clear the game is only a fraction of his life and that his mission on the planet extends far beyond the court. Marks said he and the front office plan to have those honest conversations with Irving, including the star guard’s propensity to take games off for personal reasons unrelated to injury.
“I think those are going to be discussions. It’s a team sport and you need everybody out there on the court,” Marks said. “We saw this year when you have, Kevin missed 27 games with injuries and Kyrie being out for over half the season, that hurts. That hurts from a roster-building standpoint. That’s not what we planned for. Some are avoidable and other excuses are of individual nature and those are the ones that we have to try and avoid.”
Marks also doubled down on his stance: availability is the best ability, and Irving has lacked in that department.
“We need people here that want to be here, that are selfless, that want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Marks said. “There’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here. In order to do that, we’re going to need availability from everybody.”
Irving and the Nets are in an interesting spot: The Nets don’t have cap space to replace him with a free agent if he decides to leave this offseason, and the teams that can create cap space to sign Irving on the open market aren’t close to competing for a playoff spot, let alone a championship. If Irving opts into the final year of his contract, however, he will essentially be on a one-year deal without any long-term stability.
That’s the least ideal situation for a player with an injury history as lengthy as his.
The Nets have a number of roster decisions to make this season, but chief among them is finding an amicable solution to retain Irving’s services. He is a superstar offensive guard who jumpstarts the Nets’ offense when he’s on the floor. Without him, more specifically, if the Nets let him walk for nothing, they cannot call themselves championship contenders.