Could the Big 3 become the Big 0?
Contract talks between Kyrie Irving and the Nets reportedly have become so contentious that both Irving and Kevin Durant are considering playing elsewhere, according to two reports that went public hours before the start of the NBA Draft on Thursday night.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that if Irving can’t reach an agreement with the Nets, he has a list of teams that he’d like them to consider for sign-and-trades. That list reportedly includes the Lakers, Clippers, Heat, Mavericks, 76ers and Knicks. Yes, the Knicks.
At about the same time, Shams Charania of the Athletic tweeted that sources say that Durant is “monitoring the Brooklyn Nets situation and is considering options with his future.”
Durant, who is close friends with Irving, signed a four-year, $198 million extension with the Nets last offseason so his options do seem limited. Wojnarowski also reported later Thursday that Durant has not asked for a trade and simply wants to know what a reconfigured Nets team would look like if Irving were to leave.
Still, star players have forced their way out of long-term contracts before so the prospect of losing both players has to be more than a little disconcerting for a Nets team that was favored to win a title by almost everyone last season when they opened training camp with Irving, Durant and James Harden.
Instead, the Nets lost in the first round to the Celtics after a roller-coaster season in which Harden demanded a trade and Irving played just 29 games because of his unvaccinated status.
Irving, who is eligible for a five-year, $248 million extension this offseason, declared after the Nets were swept by the Celtics that he had no intention of leaving Durant and the Nets. It appears that he is re-thinking that declaration as the Nets appear to be reluctant to give a long-term contract to a player who has proven less than reliable.
“He has some decisions to make,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said last month. “We’re looking for guys that want to come in here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selfless, play team basketball, and be available.”
Irving has until Wednesday to decide whether to exercise his $36.9 million player option for next season.
If he declines, he could become a free agent. Most of the teams that would have money to sign a player of his stature – Detroit, San Antonio, Orlando – are not good matches for the seven-time All-Star point guard. It’s actually possible, though not likely, that the Knicks could sign him as a free agent by dumping a bunch of contracts.
If Irving is going to leave, it’s more likely he would do it via a sign and trade. And some of the teams reportedly on Irving’s list present some interesting scenarios.
The most interesting of those, at least for fans of symmetry, would be with the Lakers: Irving could join forces with LeBron James, the player he won a title with in Cleveland, and Russell Westbrook could join forces again with Durant, with whom he played at Oklahoma City.
It’s also possible that Irving could join the Lakers for their mid-level exception. Irving would be leaving a chunk of money on the table to do that. Yet he showed this season when he elected not to get the vaccine that he is willing to lose millions in the name of principle.
Losing both Durant and Irving would a catastrophic blow for the Nets, who were envy of the NBA three seasons ago when they landed the pair in free agency. Nets fans were talking multiple titles at the time.
Instead, in the three years the two have been under contract, the Nets have never even reached the conference finals.