Remember this old chestnut from Samuel Clemens, better known to fans of literature as Mark Twain: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
If Twain were a columnist for The New York Post in 2022, he might be able to paraphrase himself: “If you know what Kyrie Irving is going to do/think/say … just wait a few minutes.”
Or a few months, anyway. Back in April, after the Nets had covered themselves in gory by getting swept out of the NBA playoffs by the Celtics — and now that the playoffs are over, we can carve into the record books that Celtics-Nets was the only sweep of the 2022 playoffs — Irving had this to say:
“I don’t really plan on going anywhere.”
He added: “I think for me, it has always been about being comfortable loving where I’m at, and I love it here. Once that summertime hits, I know that we’ll have some conversations, but there’s no way I could leave my man 7.”
That would be Kevin Durant, his would-be running partner, with whom he’s run precious little in the three years since they attempted to tilt the capital of professional basketball toward Brooklyn. In the moment, it seemed almost conciliatory, an acknowledgment that he and Durant (and, presumably, eventually, Ben Simmons) have some unfinished business to tend to.
Suddenly, with the reality of free agency a week and a half away, there is word that talks between Irving and the Nets on a contract extension have stalled. This could be true; you have to think the Nets’ brass, at the least, feels compelled to take a long and hard look at whether it wants to keep doing business with a player who — regardless of how you feel about mandatory vaccinations — willfully sabotaged the Nets’ 2021-22 season.
It could be posturing, and as long as Irving is part of the equation that is certainly a possibility.
What we know is this: it is Irving who holds most of the cards in this, Irving who owns a player’s option for this year worth $36.9 million (which he must exercise by June 29), Irving who can simply decide to throw himself back into the open market, a market that could yield him a starting annual salary in excess of $41 million.
And we know this, too:
The Nets made their bed with Irving. They chose him three years ago, every bit as much as Irving chose them, and if it was a necessary Faustian bargain in order to corral Durant, too … well, they either knew that at the time or they were they only folks in the world who didn’t. And for all of the headaches Irving brings, he is still only 30, he is still in his prime, and he provides the Nets — still — with their best chance to make something worthwhile out of their 2019 shake-the-world-up blockbuster.
(Let’s take a moment to talk about one of the teams now mentioned as a possible destination for Irving, the Knicks. And let’s be very clear: NO. NO. NO. As much as they crave a point guard, that’s the wrong player at the wrong time with the wrong salary cap number and the wrong cast of would-be teammates. Again: NO. NO. NO.)
Now, there is one constant caveat with the Nets: is Durant still on board with Irving as his wing man? From the start, this has been about Durant, and even in the darkest moments of last season he never wavered in his support of Irving. If that’s changed, all bets are off. If not?
Then the Nets have to swallow hard and keep the band together. Look: it’s actually unfair to label the Durant/Irving partnership a failure. Durant missed all of 2019-20 with his Achilles. The Nets were rolling in the 2021 playoffs until Irving rolled his ankle. And however you want to assess blame for the mess of 2021-22, the fact is Irving was simply never fully assimilated into the program. They were sitting ducks for a well-oiled team like Boston, and were duly (and predictably) slaughtered.
But what if Irving really does show up this time around? What if we get 65 to 70 regular-season games with he and Durant (and maybe 50 with Simmons, too) where this grand experiment finally gets a proper chance? What if it’s the Nets hitting their stride next April? Joe Tsai and Sean Marks always knew they were taking a chance here. Simply cutting their losses would be a bitter buzzkill.
Irving may present a devil of a dilemma for the Nets. But he’s the devil they know.