Kyrie Irving has opted in with Nets, but situation in Brooklyn is far from resolved | Opinion

Kyrie Irving eliminated some free-agent drama by deciding to exercise the player option on the final year of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets for 2022-23.

But that doesn’t mean the drama has been eliminated.

It is Kyrie Irving, after all.

At the very least, Irving will not be a free agent when free agency opens at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday.

And while Irving gave a quote to The Athletic that indicated he wanted to honor his commitment to the fourth and final season of his contract and to teammate and friend Kevin Durant, some NBA executives and agents believe the matter is far from settled.

As one front-office exec put it to USA TODAY Sports: "Is anything with Kyrie ever settled?" The person requested anonymity because he is not allowed to talk publicly about an opposing team's player under league rules.

The comment is not a shot at Irving. That’s reality.

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This is the player who told Boston Celtics fans, "If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here," only to leave Boston for Brooklyn following the 2018-19 season.

In his exit interview following a first-round playoff loss to Boston in April, he told reporters, "I don’t really plan on going anywhere," only to seek sign-and-trade deals right up until he couldn’t find one this week, according to ESPN.

With Irving, you have to operate with this baseline: anything is possible, no matter what he says. That doesn’t make Irving a bad guy. Just don’t be surprised.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have played just 57 regular-season and playoff games together for the Nets.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have played just 57 regular-season and playoff games together for the Nets.

While a sign-and-trade was possible, that move had hard-cap ramifications for the team receiving Irving in a deal, which would have negated that team’s ability to make additional roster improvements.

Without a sign-and-trade in place, it was unlikely Irving would decline his player option for $36.4 million and become a free agent. There aren’t many teams, especially contenders, who could have salary cap space to offer Irving a large contract that included years of security.

Now what?

One simple answer is that Irving spends the 2022-23 season with the Nets, and he becomes a free agent next summer. The Nets play out the season in a top-heavy Eastern Conference with Irving, Durant and Ben Simmons. Since the Cleveland Cavaliers' run of four consecutive NBA Finals appearances ended in 2018, four teams have represented the East in the Finals. No team has a lock on that spot anymore. Irving, Durant and Simmons is a pretty solid core to roll the dice with.

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The Nets could also trade Irving before the season. Let’s not pretend the relationship between the two sides is simpatico. Irving declined to receive the COVID-19 vaccine last season and played in just 29 regular-season games. The Nets initially ruled him out for home and road games, and when injuries piled up, they said he could play in road games. He was a part-time player, and James Harden’s frustration grew to the point where the Nets had to trade Harden to the Sixers for Simmons.

After the season, Nets general manager Sean Marks said, "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 everybody here."

The two sides did not reach an agreement on a contract extension before Irving decided to pick up his player option. If the Nets find a desperate team — and there’s always one of those — and get a good deal, a trade in the offseason or in-season before the deadline is a real possibility.

It’s also possible Irving — depending on how the season goes — signs an extension with the Nets following next season and never hits free agency in 2023.

In the three seasons Irving and Durant have spent with Brooklyn — Durant missed all of 2019-20 recovering from a ruptured Achilles — they have played in just 57 regular-season and playoff games together, with second- and first-round postseason exits.

Irving’s future with the Nets also impacts Durant’s future with the team. What will the Nets have to show for the Irving-Durant pairing after the 2022-23 season? The situation is far from resolved.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kyrie Irving-Brooklyn Nets situation is still far from resolved