The Nets and point guard Kyrie Irving are not getting very far on what, exactly, they should do going forward, as reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania on Monday. Irving has a player option for next season, worth $36.5 million, and has until June 29 to make a decision on whether to pick up that option.
Normally, with a player of Irving’s talent, there would be an opt-out replaced by a new contract, which would be worth around $250 million over five years. But Irving is not entirely normal as basketball players go. He did, of course, decide to take some personal time in the wake of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, going AWOL for 12 days and seven games.
This year, he missed the Nets’ first 35 games because he would not be vaccinated against COVID-19, which meant he could not play in home games because of New York City’s mandates—the team decided to just keep him away altogether. Eventually, the Nets brought Irving back for road games, and thereafter, the city lifted its vaccine mandate, allowing Irving to play full-time.
All of that has left the Nets with a pressing thought as they decide what kind of contract to offer Irving: What if Irving gets the big deal and simply retires?
Retirement is a Big Nets Worry
That, according to some familiar with the situation, is a looming fear of the Nets and has caused them to restrict their offers to Irving to relatively short-term deals.
“When Kyrie Irving plays, he is still one of the best in the game,” one Eastern Conference general manager said. “But there are a lot of doubts about how committed he is to keep playing, how much he really wants to do this. If you are going to give someone that kind of money, you better be sure they’re going to put in the work. And you want to be protected if not.”
NBA rules get murky on retirement and whether a team that has a player who retires must pay him. If that player formally submits a retirement letter to the league, then he’s clearly quitting and the contract is voided. And if a player retires because of a medical hardship, there are contingencies for recouping the cap space.
But healthy players leaving mid-career almost never happens in the NBA, and there is the potential for legal fireworks if Irving gets a big contract and subsequently walks away.
Irving was rumored to be considering retirement back in October when it became clear he would not be able to play because of his vaccination status. He denied those rumors.
Can Kevin Durant Rescue the Situation?
Heavy.com NBA insider Steve Bulpett said in a video interview on Monday that the Nets could call Irving’s bluff—or send Kevin Durant after him. Durant and Irving signed on with Brooklyn together in 2019.
“If you’re Brooklyn, if you’re Sean Marks, do you call his bluff?” Bulpett said. “Say, ‘OK, look, we’ll give you a pile of money, we can’t give you the whole store.’ Or, we’ll give you the full pile of money but it will have to be in incentives, you have to pay X number of games. We’ll give you bonus beyond. We’ll give you everything if you play all the games and we’re a team that’s in the Finals, that gets to where you’re supposed to be.”
Durant is not usually the kind of person to interfere with teammates’ contracts but this could be different, Bulpett said:
Kevin Durant has got to pay him a visit and say, ‘What’s up here?’ If you’re Brooklyn, that is where you’re going to get your real answer. Say, ‘We’re going to talk to him, management is going to speak with Kyrie and his people, but that’s going to go around in circles. KD, find out what’s going on here, we need to get to a bottom-line fast.