Windhorst: Nets, Kyrie Irving Engaged In “Grade-A Staredown”

With less than 48 hours remaining for Kyrie Irving to make a decision on his $36.9MM player option for 2022/23, he and the Nets are engaged in a “Grade-A staredown,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said during an appearance today on NBA Today (video links).

Since Irving and the Nets reached an impasse in their contract extension talks, there have been rumors suggesting that Kyrie is willing to walk away from the Nets and to potentially take a $30MM+ pay cut for the 2022/23 season by signing with the Lakers using their $6.4MM taxpayer mid-level exception.

However, the Nets haven’t backed down in their negotiations with the seven-time All-Star and are playing hardball themselves, even with Kevin Durant‘s future in Brooklyn potentially tied to Irving’s, according to Windhorst.

“The message that is being sent around the league – and before I say this, this could just be a negotiating position – but the message the Brooklyn Nets are sending is that they are willing to risk losing Kevin Durant if it means (not) going through what they went through last year with Kyrie Irving,” Windhorst said. “They just cannot have him back under the same terms that they had last year. I think they would be willing to welcome him back under different terms, both contractual and an understanding with the organization. But if it costs them both players to avoid a repeat of last year, they are sending the message that they are willing to do that.”

Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite New York City’s vaccine mandate, was a major factor in him suiting up for just 29 of 82 possible regular season games in 2021/22. That mandate wasn’t lifted until late in the regular season and Irving’s inconsistent availability contributed not just to the Nets’ inconsistent play but to James Harden‘s decision to request a trade.

As Windhorst explains, the Nets’ stance in their negotiations with Irving – which has been driven not just by management by but owner Joe Tsai – has sent “ripple effects” across the NBA, as teams around the league consider where Kyrie could end up and what it might take to trade for Durant.

“I have talked to several star players’ agents in the last 24 hours whose teams have come to the star player and said, ‘How do you feel about playing with Kyrie Irving? How do you feel about playing with Kevin Durant?'” Windhorst said. “Teams are preparing for this contingency.”

The Nets are likely willing to take an aggressive stance in their talks with Irving at least in part because most of the teams he would be interested in joining either don’t appear eager to pursue him or would be hard-pressed to find a way to acquire him. The Lakers, Sixers, Heat, Mavericks, Clippers, and Knicks are reportedly on Irving’s wish list, but many of those clubs don’t reciprocate his interest, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Wojnarowski reported earlier today that only the Lakers have legitimate sign-and-trade interest in Irving, and their trade chips don’t appeal to Brooklyn, which is why accepting the $6.4MM taxpayer MLE might be Kyrie’s only viable path to Los Angeles.

If Irving picks up his player option for 2022/23, it would make him easier to trade, but the Nets would also be under no obligation to make a move at that point — the two sides would have all season to potentially negotiate an extension.

“It seems to me that the Nets want Kyrie to opt in because that relieves the pressure a little bit and it buys more time,” Windhorst said. “He can negotiate for a period of time. He doesn’t have to decide on the extension this week. They can try to figure things out — it removes the immediate pressure, and I think that’s probably the best. Because at the end of the day, the Nets don’t want to lose Kevin Durant. The Nets could have a very good team for next year. … They don’t want to blow this up, but they are willing to bring it to the precipice to blow it up to try to get what they want.”

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