No matter which side of the Kyrie Irving fence you’re sitting on, it’s important to remember one thing:
If he leaves in free agency this offseason, so will the Nets’ championship hopes, as they don’t have the cap space to replace him outright.
It was a gamble the Nets took in the summer of 2019, and Nets general manager Sean Marks had to keep that in mind when he hinted that it wasn’t clear whether Irving was “fit” for Brooklyn.
There is nothing more appropriate. The only proper option is to bring an NBA championship to the zone, and Irving is one of the most skilled players of all time, he batted to help Cleveland win a championship in 2016, and when he plays, he gives you a real roster of opportunities.
When he’s on the court, it’s understandably the Nets’ sticking point. It confirmed Max’s position, and the pill Irving himself had to swallow: Chalk from the first year to annoying injuries, but sitting in the game for personal reasons, including a riot at the Capitol the following year — and then Injured in the playoffs – The decision not to get vaccinated in Year 3 was a harbinger of something even worse, and he actually dumped his teammates.
For a player looking for a long-term extension in an attractive market, Irving’s absentee pattern is nothing short of a bummer. Few other players are still talking about max contracts as he did.
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But few players in the league are as skilled or capable of doing it in basketball as Irving. Irving was spectacular to watch on TV, and even more so to watch it live. To lose that is to lose what the Nets built this contender for in the first place.
Starpower and Irving’s are almost irreplaceable. Not to mention the ugly numbers: Durant made $44 million, Ben Simmons made $34 million, Joe Harris made less than $19 million, and Cescurry made $8.5 million. There’s also a $6 million player option for Patty Mills, a $4 million dead cap for Jevon Carter, $2 million each for rookies Cam Thomas and DayRon Sharp, and $10 million for free agents Bruce Brown and Nick Clarkston Dollar cap.
That’s $129 million on the payroll, with a projected salary cap of $122 million, which will hinder the Nets from signing free agents. Another option is to find a sign-and-trade option that Irving would agree to, letting a team know that the Nets lack options.
Sticking to the plan is the best thing to do, and whether they like it or not, the Nets are stuck with Irving. In many ways, opting for an alternative would miss out on the team’s best chance of winning a championship, as Jason Kidd steered the ship from New Jersey to back-to-back NBA Finals losses at the turn of the century.
Irving and Durant are on the roster every season, it’s an NBA Finals season, and the Nets aren’t far from a big win, as a first-round sweep would suggest. For the first time since arriving in Brooklyn three years ago, they have the tools to build a coherent, outspoken lineup around Irving and Durant. To screw it up to prove a point is to put that point above the goal.
That’s why the game between the Max and Irving camps should be over. The Nets have every right to ask for an incentive-filled contract with multiple team options to keep them flexible going forward. They had to isolate themselves from Keyes’ random behavior to the fullest extent permitted by the collective bargaining agreement, and Irving had to accept that it was his decision that made the organization feel compelled to do so.
But to suggest that Irving is inappropriate is to suggest that an alternative is more appropriate, and in most cases, the alternative is a step backwards. Another setback saw the Nets fall short of expectations for the fourth straight season, and they pledged their entire future to star power with little to show other than the luxury tax and a list full of assumptions.