Following an embarrassing sweep at the hands of his former team Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving immediately committed long-term to the Brooklyn Nets.
Irving wanted to run it back with Kevin Durant and declared that he wanted to ‘co-manage’ the team.
But it seems the feeling isn’t mutual.
During Wednesday’s end-of-season press conference, Nets general manager Sean Marks was non-committal on Irving’s future with the team.
“That’s something we’ve been discussing, and we will continue to debrief on and discuss throughout this offseason,” Marks said. “We haven’t had any of those discussions yet, so it’d be unfair for me to comment on how it looks with Kyrie and us because, to be quite frank, he has some decisions to make on his own. He has to look at what he’s going to do with his player option.”
Irving has a $36.9 million player option which he will likely decline to become an unrestricted free agent. He is eligible to extend for up to four years, $183.6 million, or up to five years, $247.6 million with the Nets.
Considering how Irving played a significant role in wasting a championship window with the second-highest luxury tax bill in addition to a net loss amounting to $50-100 million — giving Nets owner Joe Tsai the worst financial losses in the NBA — they are carefully weighing handing out a max extension to a player who only played 103 regular-season games in three years.
Marks did not mince words and sent out a stern warning to Irving.
“We know what we’re looking for. 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,” Marks said.
The Durant-Irving partnership has only brought one postseason win in three years. It’s not the ‘Nets Level’ jump they expected from the previous era, which overachieved for one playoff appearance, that attracted the superstars to come over.
Marks indirectly acknowledged their mistake of selling their culture in exchange for mercurial stars such as Irving and James Harden.
“There’s been far too much debate, discussion, scuttlebutt — whatever you want to call it — about distractions and about things that are outside of basketball, whereas we’d like to focus on doing the things that got us here in the first place,” Marks said. “That’s focusing on the grit, the resilience and putting a team together that encompasses that and the borough of Brooklyn can be proud of.”
“It starts with roster construction, starts with our preparation, and starts with the summertime. We’ve prided ourselves in the past on finding players with a chip on their shoulder, with resilience, with something to prove. We’re going to have to go back to that. We’re going to have to go back to looking more in their development, more at finding the right characteristics of a player that fits here.”
The Nets want to right the ship that sailed away. Does that mean cutting off the anchor that delivered them Durant but also the deadweight that pulled them down in the last three years?
Toward the end of the press conference, Marks curiously left out Irving when he mentioned the team’s key stakeholders.
“At the right time, talking to all stakeholders, obviously myself, Joe (Tsai), Steve (Nash) and Kevin (Durant), we’ll all be talking about whatever free agent that comes in here. That’s how that all works,” Marks said, “but at the end of the day, more often than not, it’s myself making those decisions.”
If this was posturing ahead of new contract negotiations, the Nets don’t have the leverage. Irving can walk away from the Nets if he declines the player option. Marks can’t replace a player of Irving’s caliber without cap space.
The Los Angeles Lakers thought about trading for Irving and pairing him again with LeBron James during his exile after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. They can revisit that as they try to move on from a failed Russell Westbrook experiment.
Will the Nets do a sign-and-trade with Irving for Westbrook or a package from other teams that will net them complementary pieces around Durant and Ben Simmons to have the size and depth they sorely lacked in the playoffs?
Asked specifically if Marks consider going away from a Big 3 and instead build around a two-star team to get their culture back, he was again non-committal.
“I’d be foolish to say yes or no because you just never know,” Marks said. “Three years ago, I couldn’t have predicted that Kevin and Kyrie were going to say, ‘hey, we want to sign up and play in Brooklyn.’ So you just never know. We wouldn’t have predicted that James harden would have come about.”
“Obviously, we knew we were moving James to a certain extent, but you just never know what’s around the corner, and comes July, things could look quite different or things could look a little bit similar. What I can tell you that will look different is how we approach it and the processes that are involved here.”
Perhaps Marks just wanted to nudge Irving. But by publicly admonishing his star guard, it might blow up in his face again like the way last season unraveled.
Sometimes, things are better left unsaid or much better discussed privately.
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