Kyrie Irving’s search for leverage on his contract discussions with the Brooklyn Nets won’t be found with the threat of a $30 million pay cut to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, but the sum of the franchise’s deepest fears: Irving walks, and Kevin Durant wants a trade.
For everything owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks did to assemble one of the modern NBA’s most talented Big 3s, Irving’s impenetrable connection to Durant looms as a domino to the dismantling of the roster. Brooklyn is straddling the narrowest of walkways: Keeping conviction on Irving’s contract talks and keeping Durant’s desire to stay 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 perhaps an opt-out and new deal that could give him a raise to $42 million annually on a two-year deal.
Together, Tsai and Marks made a stand on Irving’s unwillingness to get vaccinated, initially refusing to let him be a part-time player — only to allow him back again midway through the 2021-22 season. In these Irving contract talks, the Nets are trying to take back a measure of leverage on a star who hasn’t been available nearly enough in his three seasons.
How far do the Nets push and leave themselves open to the organization’s greatest vulnerability — an Irving exit resulting in Durant deciding the roster is no longer talented enough for championship contention?