By Terrance Turner
June 27, 2022
Kyrie Irving is staying in Brooklyn.
The Athletic’s senior NBA Insider Shams Carania said moments ago that Irving is opting into his player option for the 2022-23 season.
The Athletic had previously stated that the Brooklyn Nets and Irving were at an impasse regarding his contract situation. Multiple sources told The Athletic that conversations between the two parties had “gone stagnant”. The Nets are reportedly reluctant to offer Irving a long-term contract, which he reportedly requires in order to stay in Brooklyn. ESPN reported today that Irving has sought and received permission for a sign-and-trade with another team.
Irving had until Wednesday to decide whether to exercise his $36 million player option for next season, per ESPN. If he had opted in, he’s no longer eligible for a sign-and-trade. If he hadn’t, he could’ve signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on a $6 million exemption, per Sports Illustrated. Irving had “great interest” in joining the Lakers, sources told ESPN.
Irving joined the Nets along with Kevin Durant in summer 2019. Durant missed the first season together due to a torn Achilles tendon. In the 2020-21 season, Irving helped lead the Nets to the Eastern Conference Semifinals (with Durant and James Harden) before suffering an ankle injury. Last season, Irving played just 29 games and missed most of the Nets’ home games because he refused to get vaccinated. (New York City had a mandate that required all city workers who interact with the public while doing business to get vaccinated.) He was fined for every game he missed, forfeiting up to $17 million in salary.
Former player Amar’e Stoudemire (who was on the Nets coaching staff) says this made things more difficult: “I think it hurt us. It definitely hurt us because we didn’t have the consistency with Kyrie enough to build chemistry for the group of the team,” he said. “He plays only on away games, depending on which city it is. Can’t play in New York, so therefore we have different lineups and different matchups depending on the game schedule. It made it difficult for us as coaches to figure out who’s going to play in spite of Kyrie. The chemistry is not quite there for how we would like it to be. It was difficult for us to manage that.”
After NYC Mayor Eric Adams relaxed the regulations, Irving was able to rejoin his team. (In late March 2022, Adams officially lifted the private sector vaccination mandate for professional athletes and performers in local venues, according to SB Nation.) Irving performed gamely in the postseason, but then flamed out. As Yahoo! News sportswriter Ben Rohrback put it: “He scored 39 points in a brilliant performance during a buzzer-beating loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of their first-round series, and then combined to score just 46 points on 37% shooting over the remainder of a sweep. The Nets entered the season as title favorites and left in shambles.”
The Nets were swept in the first round of the playoffs, losing four straight games to the Boston Celtics.
“I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving said on April 25 after the Nets got swept. But he appears to have changed his mind over the past few months. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported weeks ago that contract talks between Nets and Irving had grown “acrimonious”, and this morning word broke that Irving has received permission to explore various trade scenarios.
But the list of teams with interest appears to be very small. According to ESPN, the only team with known interest in Irving is the Los Angeles Lakers. Going to L.A. is a goal for Irving, says The Athletic’s Sean Amick, adding that Lakers star LeBron James is “very open to the idea” of reuniting with Irving in L.A. Irving and James won a championship together while on the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
Irving and James were a magical combo in what turned out to be a magical 2016 season. The two helped propel the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. After being down three games to one (!!!) and being pushed to the brink of elimination by the Golden State Warriors, the Cavs somehow overcame a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7. James scored 27 points, Irving scored 26, and the Cleveland Cavaliers roared back in Game 7 to win the NBA Championship. It was the city of Cleveland’s first major pro sports championship since 1964.