In a matter of weeks, Brooklyn Nets (25-13) star Kyrie Irving has gone from a lightning rod of controversy almost certain to be struck by lightning back to a vital piece for a Nets squad that has surged from the back of the pack to get within two games of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
That turnaround figures to have a major impact on his future and comes with a rather ominous warning.
“The biggest Kyrie fans, less than two months ago, were like, ’If he gets released, is his career over,’ Nick Wright of Fox Sports 1’s ‘First Things First’. “Folks get so hypnotized by the bag and the hesi jimbo, that we are now…like ‘$200 million? Maybe’. This would be a categorical mistake.”
With all that is on the line with the decision, they might want to tread lightly.
Nets Maxing Kyrie Irving Would Be a ‘Categorical Mistake’
Make no mistake, Irving still comes with a high risk for his next controversial move be it real or perceived. But there has to be some discussion about what to do next season as Irving is set to head into unrestricted free agency this summer.
Wright was addressing a report from Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post highlighting Nets governor Joe Tsai’s reaction to Irving’s monster putback dunk against the San Antonio Spurs.
“I don’t think it’s crazy,” ESPN insider Bobby Marks told Sanchez. “I think [Irving returning to the Nets is] probably more likely than not.”
The question is at what cost?
Irving has averaged 25.9 points per game on 63.1% true shooting since returning from an eight-game suspension he received for posting an anti-Semitic video on Twitter. That bit of drama followed an offseason standoff with the front office over his contract.
That standoff played a part in Kevin Durant’s trade request leaving Wright to suggest Irving is not worth the headache.
“I have not seen Kyrie Irving have a single note-worthy postseason moment not alongside LeBron James,” Wright said before acknowledging a pair of 30-plus-point performances — one from the first round in 2019 while Irving was with the Boston Celtics and the other from last season with the Nets which also ended in the first round after Brooklyn was swept.
“Kyrie Irving would be on a year-to-year basis,” affirmed Wright.
A Caveat to Consider
Wright’s co-host, Chris Broussard, pointed out that Brooklyn reaching the NBA Finals could change the equation significantly. Both agreed with Broussard going on to present a hypothetical offer he would deem suitable from the Nets’ perspective.
“As much as I love Kyrie, if I’m the Nets, the only way I consider giving him the full max…is if we win the championship this year,” Broussard said. Because then you’re like, ‘Even if he does have some shenanigans, we got a ring’…That would be so big, Kyrie obviously played a huge part, I would consider [it].”
Both hosts acknowledged that, even with the title, they would be reluctant to commit to Irving — who leads all Eastern Conference guards in All-Star fan voting — long-term with his history.
So what would be reasonable?
“I would like to do this if I’m the Nets: two years fully guaranteed, at the max, third-year option for the team,” Broussard suggested. “And I don’t know…that they’re going to have much competition.”
Irving has been linked to surprise destinations like the Houston Rockets who will be flush with cash this coming offseason. But, as Broussard explained, none of the teams with cap space necessarily need Irving’s services which could leave Brooklyn in the cat-bird seat much in the way it was amid Irving’s earlier drama.
The Nets’ asking price for Durant was (rightfully) so high that some have speculated whether or not they wanted to trade the 12-time All-Star.
Nets Could Ruffle Some Feathers
Irving’s status as an unrestricted free agent means he can go wherever he wants. That leaves the Los Angeles Lakers as an ever-looming threat should things go South in Brooklyn once again. But Sports Illustrated’ Howard Beck laid out an interesting scenario.
“If the Nets fall short of a championship – fall short of the Finals, fall short of maybe the Conference Finals – I don’t believe there is any desire by leadership in Brooklyn to want to bring back Kyrie Irving unless they really feel like they have to,” offered Beck on the ‘Lowe Post Podcast‘ on January 3. “If he goes, why wouldn’t Kevin Durant want to explore things yet again?”
Host Zach Lowe countered by saying he could envision Durant staying in Brooklyn without Irving.
Still, there are several layers to this looming decision that extends far beyond whether or not Irving has earned a new long-term contract with his play.