How Kyrie Irving’s contract talks could change Kevin Durant’s long-term commitment with the Brooklyn Nets


How Kyrie Irving's contract talks could change Kevin Durant's long-term commitment with the Brooklyn Nets

Kyrie Irving’s search for leverage in his Brooklyn Nets contract negotiations will be met not with the threat of a $30 million pay cut for a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, but with the sum of the franchise’s biggest fears: Irving Walks and Kevin Durant wants a trade.

For all that owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks have done to assemble one of the modern NBA’s most talented Big 3, Irving’s impenetrable connection to Durant looms like a domino for the roster’s dissolution. Brooklyn straddles the narrowest of walkways: he remains confident in Irving’s contract negotiations and upholds Durant’s desire to remain a net.

The organization clearly wants Irving on a shorter deal, whether it’s his $36 million opt-in for the 2022-23 season — or maybe an opt-out and a new deal that gives him an annual pay rise to $42 million US dollars for two years could trade.

Together, Tsai and Marks took a stand on Irving’s unwillingness to get vaccinated, initially refusing to let him play part-time – only to let him back midway through the 2021-22 season. In these Irving contract talks, the Nets are looking to reclaim some measure of clout from a star who hasn’t been nearly available enough in his three seasons.

How far will the Nets go in exposing themselves to the organization’s greatest weakness — an exit from Irving leading to Durant deciding the roster is no longer talented enough to contend for the championship?

In previous offseasons, rival agents and players have told you about Durant’s eagerness to talk to potential free agents. So far, that hasn’t been the case for him, sources say. Alongside Irving, the Nets guard’s main free agent is Patty Mills, who still hasn’t decided whether to exercise her $6.2 million player option. Surrounding the Irving drama, the Nets’ environment has made it harder to retain and woo role players, sources say.

Anyhow, there’s no significant salary cap space Irving could sign anywhere else – although recent history suggests it may not be necessary for him to leave. Irving, 30, cost himself about $17 million in salary for refusing to get vaccinated a season ago and tens of millions more for losing his signature deal with Nike for shoes. If anyone were to say with absolute confidence that Irving wouldn’t prefer the Lakers’ $6 million taxpayer exemption to his $36 million guaranteed with Brooklyn, that would only be conjecture.

As possible targets, the New York Knicks are working to make room for salary caps and are preparing to recruit free-agent guard Jalen Brunson from the Dallas Mavericks, sources say. He wanted a four-year, $55 million extension last offseason, but the Mavericks never made an offer, sources say. Due to the risk of losing Brunson to the Knicks for nothing, where his former agent Leon Rose is the president of basketball operations and his father Rick is a newly hired assistant coach, there could be almost a maximum contract for the Mavericks to keep him.

Unless the Knicks manage to acquire Brunson in free hands and lose a trade for Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, they’d likely consider the possibility of Irving — if he were still available.

There are teams that are pushing for Irving to step down and say goodbye to the Nets, believing it would give them an opportunity to cobble together trade packs to acquire Durant. As much as Durant asks about the nets, there’s also the reality that four years into his contract means he has little if any voice over when or where he trades. This would be a small team’s dream, robbing an MVP-level talent from a Goliath whose contractual circumstances would leave him no choice but to play for them.

All in all, this is a big bluff.

The preference for everyone — the Nets, Durant, and yes, even Irving — is to strike an Irving deal, get Ben Simmons productive again, and get another run in the Eastern Conference. At the moment the networks are on the brink. This great experiment began three years ago with Durant and Irving, and now it’s on the brink of collapse with them.

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