Why Kyrie Irving returning to Nets is most likely outcome

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Kyrie Irving looks perplexed Nets Celtics Game 3
Kyrie Irving looks perplexed Nets Celtics Game 3

Kyrie Irving has a player option for the 2022-23 season. That creates some uncertainty over his future with the Nets.

For various reasons, Brooklyn GM Sean Marks didn’t say anything definitive about Irving’s future with the team when he was asked about it Wednesday during an end-of-season news conference.

Marks’ comments will lead to external speculation over Irving’s long-term future with the Nets. But the club doesn’t have many options when it comes to Irving.

A sign-and-trade of Irving would be complicated and onerous. Letting Irving sign with another team in free agency without getting anything in return doesn’t help Brooklyn.

That’s why Irving returning to Brooklyn on a multi-year deal is the most likely outcome.

If Irving declines his player option, he can sign a maximum five-year deal with Brooklyn for roughly $245 million as an unrestricted free agent (he can ink a four-year deal worth roughly $180 million with another team). Irving can also sign a three-or four-year extension with the Nets. A four-year extension at the maximum salary would be worth roughly $190 million.

(If Irving signed a three-year extension, he would be on the same timeline as Kevin Durant).

Again, the most likely option here is Irving and the Nets agreeing to a multi-year deal this summer.

Apr 25, 2022; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) and forward Kevin Durant (7) drop back on defense during the second quarter of game four of the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 25, 2022; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) and forward Kevin Durant (7) drop back on defense during the second quarter of game four of the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

But Marks made it clear on Wednesday that Brooklyn needs more from Irving moving forward.

"I think we know what we’re looking for. We’ve 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," the GM said.

Irving, as you know, missed a significant portion of the 2021-22 season due to his decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine and due to local vaccine ordinances. The Nets initially decided to keep Irving out of all games.

When injuries and COVID-19 cases decimated the roster, Brooklyn decided to bring Irving back for road games. New York City’s ordinances around the COVID-19 vaccine changed in the spring, which then allowed Irving to play in both home and road games.

Marks acknowledged that Irving’s absence was a factor in the Nets’ disappointing result this season.

"Whenever you have a key part of your team that isn't available and you're trying to build chemistry, you're trying to build camaraderie out on the court I think it's very difficult," he said.

When asked if he would talk to Irving about the importance of being available if he’s healthy enough to play, Marks said, "I think those are going to be discussions. It’s a team sport and you need everybody out there on the court. We saw this year when you have, Kevin missed 27 games with injuries and Kyrie being out for over half the season, that hurts. That hurts from a roster building standpoint. That’s not what we planned for.

"Some are avoidable and other excuses are of individual nature and those are the ones that we have to try and avoid. We need people here that want to be here, that are selfless, that want to be part of something bigger than themselves. There’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here. In order to do that, we’re going to need availability from everybody."

Apr 17, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the first quarter during game one of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.
Apr 17, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the first quarter during game one of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.

In addition to the games he missed in 2021-22, Irving also missed time in the middle of the 2020-21 season when he left the team without explanation.

It sounds like the organization will take a harder stance against any non-injury absence in the future. That will be an added wrinkle in the negotiations between the Nets and Irving this summer.

But I think anyone who views Marks’ comments Wednesday as a precursor to an Irving-Nets divorce is over-analyzing his answers.

Marks didn’t want to say anything definitive about Irving’s future on Wednesday for a few reasons. The most relevant reason? The last time Marks spoke definitively about the contract status of a star player, it didn’t work out well for him.

Prior to the 2021-2022 season, Marks predicted that James Harden, Irving, and Durant would all sign extensions before training camp. Obviously, that didn’t come to fruition. Marks referenced that on Wednesday when talking about Irving’s future.

"I did make the mistake last year that you guys have all sort of brought up to me a couple times that I said we would sign a couple guys and that didn’t come to fruition so I’m going to hold back on telling you that I’m going to sign these guys until it happens," Marks said. "And that goes for all free agents. We’ll just wait and at the appropriate time we’ll make those decisions."

The offseason for Irving, Ben Simmons, and Joe Harris is a crucial one for Brooklyn. If all three players are on the court and contributing over the course of the 2022-23 season, the Nets are a dangerous team.

There was positive news surrounding Simmons on Wednesday. Marks said he is in good spirits following back surgery.

"He’s feeling relief already and feeling great," Marks said. "He has a big buildup to get ready and contribute."

Mar 10, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons (10) during warmups before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
Mar 10, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons (10) during warmups before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.

Nash talked about Simmons’ versatility and how he can fill a significant gap in Brooklyn’s roster. He sees Simmons playing multiple roles, including lead guard and center, for the Nets next season.

Marks said he’s spoken to Simmons several times since his back surgery.

"I don’t want to speak for him but I can sense there’s a relief. There’s a new lease on life, so to speak," he said.

Simmons didn’t play for the Nets after coming over from Philadelphia in a trade that sent Harden to the 76ers.

A back ailment prevented Simmons from playing in the regular season. He was trending toward returning to the court in the postseason. But his back issue flared up prior to Game 4 against the Boston Celtics.

Simmons’ mental health also factored into his inability to play this season in both Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

Marks didn’t want to comment directly on Simmons’ mental health when asked about it on Wednesday.

"I don’t want to talk about someone’s mental health or mental performance. I’m going to let Ben address that at the correct time," Marks said. " ... We are doing everything possible we can to get him around our group. That is the key. He needs to be in here, smell the gym again, around his friends, around his family and to participate in this and let us help him (and help) build a culture together.

"… Because as Steve alluded to, he’s a big big part of this. He fits a lot of holes, plugs a lot of holes that we think we potentially have. With him in there it’s a different dynamic out there. It’s a different dynamic for not only his teammates and what they’ll be asked to do in the roles they have to cover. So they can put people in places where they were honestly brought here to do and not try to fill a different role."