The drama surrounding the Brooklyn Nets did not end with their season, a sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Far from it, in fact. Kyrie Irving's decision to re-enter the public spotlight after the loss gave everybody plenty of strange quotes to pore over and attempt to pull insight from. Ben Simmons underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his back, which is tremendously concerning. And now we get word from beat reporter Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News that a potential disaster is brewing.
Winfield reported two important nuggets -- the Nets are now "unwilling" to give Irving a max contract extension, and Kevin Durant hasn't spoken to Brooklyn's front office since he got sent home for the summer by the Celtics.
Nugget No 1:
This is why, as I’ve already written, the Nets’ championship hopes hinge on an amicable solution with Irving, whose personal decision not to get vaccinated and unpredictable injury history have left the Nets hesitant, and now, according to a source familiar with the Nets’ thought process, outright unwilling to give him a long-term extension.
And Nugget No. 2:
If Irving leaves outright as a free agent this summer, disgruntled by the Nets’ hardball stance on his availability, Brooklyn doesn’t have the cap space to replace him with a star, which means Durant, entering Year 16, could be playing with a questionable Ben Simmons (back surgery) and a roster full of role players.
That’s a first-round exit at best – if Durant stays to see it, and according to multiple sources, Durant and the Nets front office have not spoken since they were swept out of the first round.
In layman’s terms, if Irving leaves the Nets, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Durant becomes frustrated with the organization’s ability to put championship pieces around him.
Winfield also accurately points out that Irving will not settle for some kind of short-term arrangement that pays him well while allowing the Nets future flexibility. If he opts into his player option this summer and goes into next year on an expiring contract, one wrong step could lead to an injury that tanks his future earnings potential to an extreme degree. Irving's talent alone gives him the leverage to demand an arrangement more suitable-- and now it appears he has Durant to use as leverage, too. Which isn't necessarily new information, but it seems nearly certain now that Durant's opinion of his mercurial teammate hasn't been altered enough to be open to a big change.
Brooklyn is thus in quite an unenviable position. The Nets can either pay Irving more than $200 million over the next four years and cross their fingers that he neither gets hurt nor has a come to Jesus moment that results in another hiatus. Or they dare him to walk away from his player option, which risks the wrath of Durant and doesn't change anything in terms of their ability to change the roster this offseason.
Neither option seems great. Obviously having Durant and Irving on the court together is enough to cover for most basketball problems, but Irving showed us last year that basketball problems are the least of the Nets' worries. And they were both on the court for all of this year's postseason run, which ended after four games. Durant and Irving are very good as a pair but it is a team sport. The Nets need to hope for better health and give them more help but have very little as far as ways to do so, with or without Irving.
It's hard to see it as anything other than disaster brewing. If Durant was amenable to using Irving to improve the roster in some way, that would help. But it seems the two are still a package deal. And the Nets will have to face that fact, even if they're currently unwilling to give the point guard a massive deal. If Durant says he's gone if Irving is, there's only one thing to do.