In the wake of the Nets’ unceremonious exit in the first round of the 2022 Playoffs, seven-time All-Star Kyrie Irving didn’t waste any time declaring his intent to stay in the fold. Following a tumultuous campaign that saw him burn rubber for only 29 games for a cacophony of reasons, his words appeared to be a welcome development. After all, a commitment from the mercurial talent looked like a godsend to a front office that reeled from his inability to consistently perform the job from which he drew a $33.3-million salary.
As things turned out, conventional wisdom couldn’t have been more wrong. Ostensibly, the Nets themselves have figured revisiting their arrangement with Irving is the best move to make in the wake of his contract demands. Even as he has proven to be a part-time player, he’s bent on securing a fully guaranteed four-year extension worth a whopping $256 million. The problem isn’t his skill set, which admittedly counts him among the top 15 players in the National Basketball Association. It’s his unpredictability. There’s a reason he has suited up in black and white in only 113 of 126 matches over the last three years, and this reason gives both owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks pause.
Were things in a vacuum, the Nets would most likely ship Irving to effect addition by subtraction. Unfortunately, he has an ace in teammate Kevin Durant, with whom he has a close relationship. Certainly, he’s the reason the surefire Hall of Famer signed up with them in 2019. And, yes, he’s banking on the threat of both of them leaving to coax them into opening their war chest for him. So far, they’re not budging. And, so far, neither is he; in fact, he has evidently given them a list of preferred destinations should they decide on taking the sign-and-trade route.
Bottom line, the Nets and Irving are playing chicken and waiting to see the other blink. Needless to say, the situation will come to a head on June 29, the deadline for him to either opt in or opt out of his existing contract. In either case, an extension isn’t out of the question. That said, the latter option would indicate his openness to leaving. And in the face of his incalculable decision making, it’s in the cards regardless of the fact that he risks losing millions upon millions by taking it. Remember, he didn’t bat an eyelash while he saw close to $20 million go down the drain because of his refusal to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. He also didn’t think twice in castigating Nike for what he deemed to be the unauthorized release of the latest edition of his signature shoe; said move now has him about to bid goodbye to a lucrative endorsement deal.
There’s something to be said about Irving being a tantalizing prospect for a better future, but ultimately falling short of expectations. If nothing else, his experience with the Cavaliers, the Celtics, and the Nets have shown it time and again. True, the Lakers can’t wait to grab him should he opt out of his contract. Then again, doing so smacks of desperation. They should be careful what they wish for; they just might get it.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.