The Nets' Kyrie Irving looks for the inbound pass while playing the...

The Nets' Kyrie Irving looks for the inbound pass while playing the Celtics in the first quarter at Barclays Center on April 23. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Surprise, surprise. Contract negotiations with Kyrie Irving and the Nets are not going well.

The Nets are following their messy regular season with a messy summer as there are reports that Irving will test the free-agent waters. According to The Athletic, the Knicks, Lakers and Clippers could all be possible landing destinations.

That Irving and the Nets wouldn’t be on the same page this summer is something we could have all predicted after watching Irving’s news conference an hour after Boston swept the Nets out of the first round of the playoffs. Irving, who played in only 29 games in the regular season largely because of his refusal to get vaccinated, basically promoted himself to co-general manager, said he had no intention of leaving the Nets and then went on to paint a picture of the Nets going forward that should be disconcerting for all Nets fans.

“When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe and Sean,” he said referring to Kevin Durant, owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks.

Well, apparently someone in this general management group isn’t so keen on giving a less than reliable player the max kind of contract he is likely seeking. And so Irving is threatening to walk. The 30-year-old point guard has until June 29 to either pick up his player option or become a free agent.

“He has some decisions to make,” 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.”

And therein lies the rub. No one doubts that the seven-time All-Star is an incredible basketball player. He has averaged 27.2 points, 6.1 assists and made 40.4% of his three-pointers in three seasons with the Nets.

The problem is he has played in less than half (103 of 226) of the team’s regular-season games because of injuries, a personal leave of absence last season and his unwillingness to join his teammates and comply with New York City’s vaccination mandate.

It’s hard to overstate the impact Irving’s vaccination status had on the team. The Nets  were selected by almost everyone last season to make it to the NBA Finals. Irving’s refusal to do what he had to do to play with the team in home games led directly to the breakup of The Big 3 as James Harden decided he had enough and wanted to be traded. It also led to almost daily chaos as the team tried to deal with Irving being a part-time player for a good chunk of the season.

As much as the drama of playing with Irving has been exhausting, letting him walk via free agency would be devastating for the team as they are over the salary cap and have no way of replacing him. The Nets would have arguably the best player in the game in Kevin Durant but no surefire second star to pair with him given the unpredictability of Ben Simmons’ situation.

Irving is also better off not becoming a free agent this year for several reasons. First of all, after all the nonsense of last season, his stock isn’t at an all-time high. Irving might be better off picking up his option, having a drama-free season and then testing the free-agent waters next year.

Second, the Nets are the only team allowed to offer him a five-year, $245.6 million extension. Though they might be unlikely to do that and keep him, a compromise scenario would be for the Nets to do a sign-and-trade, with the Clippers and the Lakers being the most likely of trade partners. The Knicks, who have also been mentioned, don’t really have the assets to make this an appealing deal though they could get involved in a multiple-team trade.

The situation is complicated and potentially ugly. But it isn’t a surprise. Not after everything the Nets and Irving have been through.

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