Kyrie Irving still wants the Nets. They still want him. And Kevin Durant wants them both. For now.
The NBA draft — being held Thursday at Barclays Center — has always held plenty of intrigue, with Nets general manager Sean Marks having made a deal within 48 hours of draft night every year since his arrival. But right now for Brooklyn, all the drama isn’t about picks or rookies, but Irving and his contract negotiations.
Amid reports that Durant could become disgruntled if Irving leaves and demand a trade himself, the all-important question is can they all find a common ground, a happy medium to stay together. And between all the posturing and bluffing, it’s the question that’s going to have to get sorted out over the next week or so. Irving has until June 29 to pick up next year’s $36 million option.
Irving wants a longer contract, and can only get a full five-year max deal from Brooklyn. But due to his unpredictability and unavailability — he’s played just 103 regular-season games since arriving, due to personal leaves, injuries and vaccine refusals — the Nets seek to protect themselves with a shorter deal.
There’s a lot of gray area between the two.
ESPN suggested a two-year deal with a raise up to $42 million was on the table. And former Nets GM Bobby Marks told The Post weeks ago a fair deal might be a three-year max extension that was 100 percent guaranteed in Year 3 if Irving logged 60 games in 2022-23 and 2023-24. He amended that to 65 games Wednesday.
The Knicks, Clippers and Lakers will be eyeing Irving and watching closely, with the Lakers described by ESPN as the most “significant threat.” They only have the $6 million taxpayer exception to offer, and most players wouldn’t even consider taking a $30 million annual pay cut to leave a team. But Irving isn’t most players.
Irving willingly gave up $17 million in salary to avoid getting vaccinated this season, and was prepared to give up more if New York City hadn’t given athletes and entertainers exceptions to its vaccine mandates. And Irving lost tens of millions in losing his shoe deal with Nike after he lambasted his signature sneaker.
The seven-time All-Star’s best weapon in negotiation isn’t using outside interest (Lakers, Clippers, etc.) as leverage. It’s his close friendship with Durant, and the leverage the former MVP holds over Brooklyn.
Irving’s opt-out deadline may be June 29, but realistically things could well come to a head by Thursday’s draft, or shortly thereafter.
Every year since his 2016 arrival, Sean Marks has made a move within a day or two of the draft. But without a first- or second-round pick — and no money currently available to buy one — he’ll have to work to keep that streak alive.
“You’ve got to be prepared. Anything could happen,” Nets assistant GM Jeff Peterson said on Voice of the Nets podcast. “On draft night we could get a call from a team that wants to trade us the 15th pick. Well, we’ve got to be prepared.”
Brooklyn can only buy a pick in a deal consummated after July 1. They’re believed to be looking to get into the second round, according to The Athletic.
With just two months on the job, Sean Marks traded Thad Young to Indiana for the rights to Caris LeVert. Then two days before the 2017 draft, the Nets dealt Brook Lopez and the 27th pick for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. The morning before the next year’s draft it was moving Mozgov and picks for Dwight Howard, whom they waived.
In 2019, Marks traded the rights to Mfiondu Kabengele for Jaylen Hands and a 2020 first-rounder, clearing a second max spot to land Durant and Irving. That sent the Nets down the path they’re on, albeit one in danger of going awry.
The 2020 draft saw a three-team deal that brought in Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet. Shamet got shipped out on draft night 2021 for the first-rounder that become Day’Ron Sharpe.
All those moves got them to now. With Irving’s return still a likelihood, but not a foregone conclusion. With him, nothing ever is.