NBA Exec: Nets ‘In a Corner’ on Star Guard’s Potential $250 Million Contract

Sean Marks, Nets GM

Getty Sean Marks, Nets GM

In the end, the NBA marriage between Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets probably will come down to this: They’re stuck with each other. The pairing is, obviously, strained and with good reason. The Nets have given excessive leeway to Irving in the past three years, as he has played in just 103 of the team’s 226 games, getting little in return for his efforts. The Nets’ record when Irving plays for Brooklyn is 58-45, a winning percentage (.563) not much better than when he does not play (67-54, .554).

Now, Irving stands on the brink of a major new contract from Brooklyn, a five-year deal worth nearly $250 million, if he chooses to opt out of the $37 million he is scheduled to make next season. It might seem patently bizarre to commit a quarter of a billion dollars to a player who has been as flighty as Irving—sitting out early this year rather than take the COVID-19 vaccine, going AWOL on the team last winter—and if the Nets had their way, surely, Irving would opt in to that final year and give the team a chance to see how he plays together with Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons before forking over the big money.

Expect the Nets to send out signals, in fact, that they’re not sure about a long-term max deal for Irving. That could be incentive for Irving to play it safe and opt in for next season. Or, he could agree to a contract extension with the Nets which would result in a total deal worth less than the $250 million. Problem for Brooklyn, though, is that Irving would quickly recognize such a signal as a bluff, and he has the power to call them on it.

Not that Irving has a flood of other opportunities on the market. There is no team with cap space that would make an offer to Irving. On the flip side, there is no star player the Nets could bring to Brooklyn to replace Irving in free agency, and trading him for equal value is a near-impossible task, given his aversion to competing over the course of a full season.

“It would be a really, really big surprise if he opted in,” one Eastern Conference executive told “They’d be dancing in the front office if he did. He’d only do that if he was going to request a trade, and why would he do that? It’s hard to see the option happening because he’s got them over a barrel. You want to let Kyrie go, OK, what do you do to replace him? There’s not a lot of answers on that. You can’t trade him. You’ve got to pay him. They’re in a corner on that.”

The Nets aren’t sure of the next move on Irving. One of the few definitives coming out of Brooklyn since the team was swept out of the first round is that, according to a source, the team will, “make it a priority,” to keep free-agent guard Bruce Brown, who averaged 14.0 points and was one of the bright spots of the Nets’ postseason. Brooklyn has his Bird rights.

Irving, though, is a mystery. It’s been a frustrating three years for the Nets since acquiring Irving and Durant in the summer of 2019. The Nets have been twice swept out of the playoffs in those three seasons, and only once did they win a postseason series. Expect them to sign up for more very expensive frustration in the weeks to come.

Victor Oladipo’s Next Shot

Jimmy Butler of the Heat debated reports that he does not want to play with reserve guard Victor Oladipo, but even if that’s the case, it has become clear that Oladipo is not in the long-term plans for Miami. He’s long pined to play for the Heat, and was expected to begin the process of rebuilding his career in a comeback with the team this season.

It hasn’t really materialized. Oladipo returned from his knee injury in March but could not crack a rotation that had been solidified by surprise contributors like Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. He did log 40 points in a meaningless season finale against the Magic, but that was one of only eight appearances he made this year for Miami.

Oladipo turns 30 next month but already, the chances of getting back into an NBA rotation looked increasingly slim, having appeared in just 96 games over the last four years, wrecked mostly by a nasty quadriceps injury. But Game 5 of the Heat’s first-round victory over the Hawks on Tuesday night, when Oladipo filled in for the injured Butler and rattled in 23 points in 36 minutes, helped Oladipo’s future immensely.

“That is the first time he looked completely like himself,” one general manager said. “I mean, he is still looking at a minimum, make-good contract next year. But the more he shows that, the more he moves to a position where he can pick his spot, decide where he is going to get playing time—a team like Sacramento or the Knicks or the Blazers. It’s not going to be Miami, that has been pretty clear. But a game like that is going to stick, it’s going to carry into the summer.”

Clippers Backup Center Drawing Interest

There is buzz around some of the back-end free-agents in this year’s market, and one worth watching is Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein, who quietly had a remarkable season backing up (and often playing as much as) Ivica Zubac. The Clippers would like to keep him but may not be able to afford to do so after Hartenstein averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 17.9 minutes per game.

Hartenstein was a bargain, a training-camp signee who made $1.7 million last season. He’d surely like a bigger role going forward, and is expected to garner wide interest from around the league. The Hornets and Mavericks are said to have interest, and he would be an ideal fit for the Bulls, who have been hurting for center depth.



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