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LEVERAGE: Nets, Irving ‘keen’ about keeping negotiations ‘fluid’ as deadline approaches

Truth be told, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report was the first to report on difficulties in the most recent round of talks between the Nets and Kyrie Irving. (Kristian Winfield of course, first broke the story on how things could go south a month ago, saying the Nets were “outright unwilling to give (Irving) a long-term extension”.)

Fischer laid out his latest reporting Thursday in an online conversation Thursday with Boardroom’s Eddie Gonzalez,

“I’ve been working on the assumption that all three — Kevin, Kyrie, Ben Simmons — will be there for the start of training camp. However, there’s a lot of talk about Kyrie,” he told Gonzalez Thursday. “Definitely some talk about whether they are going to figure out a long term relationship.”

He added that he hasn’t been able to confirm anything specific about Irving and admitted there’s been little coming out of the Nets camp about what’s going on. Now, after Shams Charania’s said the two sides had reached an “impasse,” Fischer has written things up on Bleacher Report.

His bottom line is that while the sticking point being length of contract, the two sides aren’t closing doors.

[T]he dialogue among Irving, his representation and Nets leadership is expected to be fluid in the lead-up to his decision. Both sides appear keen on holding ongoing conversations about building together in Brooklyn, where the Nets can return to the championship-contending aspirations they held entering this past campaign. Since their exit from the playoffs, Brooklyn officials have been working under the assumption that Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons will return to Barclays Center for the 2022-23 season.

Fischer did not offer specifics as to what the sticking point is other than length of contract.

[T]he Brooklyn Nets and the All-Star guard still have ground to cover for both sides to emerge content on extension conversations, sources told B/R. The Nets naturally prefer a shorter-term, incentive-laden agreement that includes benchmarks such as games played, sources said. Irving, having missed significant time because of injuries in recent seasons, has prioritized a longer-term contract.

Like Shams, Fischer noted possible landing spots for Irving but also in breaking them down, discussed the degree of difficulty involved in getting things done. He did say that Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is a fan of Irving’s but signing Jalen Brunson, the Mavs free agent, is New York’s top priority.

There is a path for Irving to decline his option and sign with New York as an unrestricted free agent. Part of the rumblings about Irving and the Knicks’ mutual interest is that head coach Tom Thibodeau is a fan of Irving. But New York would have to shed significant salary, sacrifice valuable draft capital in the process and still likely need to stretch a contract or two to free up the space to meet Irving’s near $40 million wages.

Over at ESPN, Stephen A. Smith said Monday that Irving wants a fully guaranteed four-year extension which he called “delusional.” based on his lack of availability, missing more than half the Nets games between 2019 and this year. Brian Windhorst said basically the same thing Tuesday morning on the network. He called word of the impasse “a leverage play” on Irving’s part.

Windhorst added to the discussion with an oddly worded comment on how rumors of Irving’s unhappiness began to spread.

“Late last week, a couple of teams, uh, were reached out to to let them know that Kyrie Irving may be on the market,” Windhorst said, apparently using passive voice to hide who did the reaching out. “It wasn’t a complete and total surprise because it was understood that the Nets could play hardball. Kyrie has come on the record and said he planned to be back and the Nets weren’t under any obligation to offer him a full, max, guaranteed contract.

“So most of the league is reading this as a leverage play, Kyrie trying to leverage the Nets into giving him something that he wants on a new contract whether it’s an opt-out and a new deal to extend his current contract. The reality is that he doesn’t have a lot of options and what this will probably come down to is if he is willing to opt out of his contract, and leave $36 million on the table and open up the window and actually go someplace else without needing the Nets to trade him there.

“That is really the game of chicken here. If the Nets believe that he is willing to do that, simply leave money on the table, they may be willing to guarantee more money. If they call his bluff and he winds up staying in his contract, then the Nets would be in a good position. But at the end of the day, most people believe that eventually, he will come back to the Nets. It’s just a matter of working out the deal,”

Later, he reiterated the leverage point...

“I don’t know what the source of the report was, but I’ll tell you what the league’s perspective is. The league’s perspective is that was an effort from Kyrie Irving’s side to create some leverage because one of the things that has developed here in the wake of the end of the season is that the Nets have appeared to draw a line in the sand with Kyrie. It is appropriate it is in sand because sand can be smoothed over very quickly. The Nets have drawn lines in the sand before.”

Zach Lowe, Windhorst’s colleague also laid out the worst case scenario for the Nets but was careful to not suggest it was anything more than speculation.

“I can tell you for sure that there is some curiosity both in the Nets and around the league of: Is this dude actually gonna opt out and sign somewhere for the MLE?” said Lowe.

However, Lowe like all the pundits said he expects that Irving will be back with the Nets.

Fischer’s bottom line is similar to the ESPN crew’s. He too mentioned that rumors have circulated since the Draft Combine a month ago that Irving might he had. He made it appear that it was Irving’s camp that was spreading said rumors.

In any negotiation, it’s fair for a player of Irving’s caliber to search for lucrative exit ramps. Word of Irving’s interest in the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks has circulated among league personnel since the NBA Draft Combine in mid-May, but few team executives have given much credence to that chatter.

No league figure contacted by B/R expects Irving to play for a non-Brooklyn team on a one-year deal at the mid-level exception. It appears, and has always seemed clear, that Irving’s best scenario for both lucrative earnings and a championship-contending environment is with the Nets.

There’s also the timing of the Shams story which virtually everyone, inside and outside HSS Training Center, believe was a plant from Irving’s camp. As Mark W. Sanchez wrote in the New York Post Tuesday, “The timing — three days ahead of the draft — is certainly not a coincidence. The report listed the Lakers, Knicks and Clippers as teams that would be interested suitors (Irving apparently prefers big cities).”

Is the Draft a deadline for some sort of agreement? Sean Marks has gone radio silent as he often does before big decisions.

Meanwhile, the president of the players’ union. C.J. McCollum told ESPN Tuesday that he thinks there’s “No Way!’ the Nets trade Kyrie Irving...

Of course, trying to figure out what Irving will ultimately do isn’t always easy. He was willing to give up $14.5 million in salary this season to justify his position on vaccine mandates. He is not governed by norms.