The Nets are going to need more of a buy-in from Kyrie Irving if he wants to remain a part of the team.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the Boston Celtics swept the Nets in the first round of the playoffs, Nets general manager Sean Marks was noncommittal Wednesday when asked about Irving’s future with the team. He also acknowledged that Irving’s part-time status this season was a distraction that hurt the Nets.
“We need people here that want to be here, that are selfless, that want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Marks said.
Irving, who is unvaccinated, played in only 29 games this season for the Nets because of a local health ordinance that prohibited him from playing at Barclays Center. The team initially declined to let Irving play with them on a part-time basis, but then reversed their position in late December.
Irving has a player option worth $36.9 million this offseason, which he is expected to decline in the hope of signing a long-term max deal. If he declines that option, Irving will become an unrestricted free agent and can sign with anyone, including the Nets.
In his news conference just an hour after getting eliminated from the playoffs, Irving said he wanted to remain a Net, adding that “he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.”
Irving also indicated that he would join team owner Joe Tsai, Marks and superstar Kevin Durant in “managing this franchise together.”
Given all the drama of the past season, the Nets didn’t sound like they were in such a hurry to sign Irving to an expensive, long-term deal.
“Look, I think that’s something we’ve been discussing and we will continue to debrief on and discuss throughout this offseason,” Marks said when asked specifically if the team was committed to Irving for the long haul.”
The Nets were Las Vegas’ preseason pick to win a title this year. As late as January, they still had the best record in the Eastern Conference. The players, however, began to feel the wear and tear of playing heavy minutes. Durant was out for more than a month with a knee injury and James Harden demanded to be traded.
Throughout it all, the Nets were publicly supportive of Irving’s decision, so it was notable Wednesday when Marks agreed that his part-time status hurt the team.
“It’s a team sport and you need everybody out there on the court,” Marks said. “We saw this year when you have Kevin missed 27 games with injuries and Kyrie being out for over half the season, that hurts. That hurts from a roster-building standpoint. That’s not what we planned for. Some are avoidable and other excuses are of individual nature and those are the ones that we have to try and avoid.”
Marks said with a revolving door it was just too hard to develop the needed chemistry.
“I think it’s obvious,” Marks said. “Whenever you have a key part of your team that’s not available and you’re trying to build chemistry, you’re trying to build camaraderie out on the court, that’s very difficult.”
When asked if he thought Durant, who is close with Irving, was still committed to Irving as being a key component, Marks sidestepped the question, saying the two haven’t had time to have an in-depth conversation. He did make it clear that there would be one person making decisions about the team.
“At the end of the day and more often than not, it’s myself making those decisions” he said. “It’s not me going to Kevin and saying, “Do you want this person? Do you want that person?’ I don’t think that is fair to place on Kevin. Now, is he surprised by anything? Absolutely not. He will know ahead of time what we’re doing, what we plan on doing with the entire roster.”
Notes & quotes: Marks said that Ben Simmons, who was acquired from the 76ers in the Harden trade, is feeling “great” after back surgery last week. Marks made it a point to say that the Nets are going to do everything they can to keep Simmons around the team this summer.