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Woj: Nets risk ‘alienating’ Kevin Durant, ‘unfastening him from his commitment’

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In an interview with Sage Steele early Wednesday afternoon, Adrian Wojnarowski said the Nets are “navigating” through difficult straits with Kyrie Irving, trying to balance “discipline” in their negotiations on his extension while risking “alienating” Kevin Durant, the result of which could be an “unfastening” his commitment to Brooklyn.

Woj also suggested that Irving could simply walk away from the Nets and a taxpayers MLE with the Lakers.

Without detailing the status of the talks, Woj laid out where he thinks things stand...

Woj said the Nets are “navigating two fronts: trying to stay disciplined in their mind on a Kyrie extension. He is a player who has not been as available to them as they’ve wanted last couple of years. Clearly, Brooklyn has been hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving. but they also run the risk of alienating Kevin Durant and perhaps unfastening him from his commitment of wanting to be in Brooklyn if Kyrie Irving was to leave.”

“Now, Durant is just starting a four-year extension. So he’s tied contractually to Brooklyn. In a perfect world, the Nets find a way to do a deal that still gives them some leverage to get Kyrie Irving on the court next season, but certainly, if he’s willing to take significantly less money, he could walk, he could perhaps sign that $6 million exception with the Lakers. That would be a $30 million pay cut but honestly last year, he lost about $17 million for being unvaccinated and out of the Nets lineup.”

Marc Stein later reported that there are “credible rumblings” that Irving recently reached out to LeBron James Marc Stein later reported, “to presumably discuss a potential reunion in Hollywood,” which Stein mostly dismissed as a “stretch.” Stein also said that the Heat may also be interested in Irving, adding them to the Lakers, Clippers and Knicks.

Later in Woj’s article for ESPN+, he added this:

For everything owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks did to assemble one of the modern NBA’s most talented Big 3s, Irving’s impenetrable connection to Durant looms as a domino to the dismantling of the roster. Brooklyn is straddling the narrowest of walkways: Keeping conviction on Irving’s contract talks and keeping Durant’s desire to stay a Net.

The ESPN reporter also seemed to hint about where the Nets stand on an offer:

The organization clearly wants Irving on a shorter deal, whether it’s his $36 million opt-in for the 2022-23 season — or perhaps an opt-out and new deal that could give him a raise to $42 million annually on a two-year deal.

Perhaps a more telling indication of where things stand, Woj also reported that KD has not been as involved this off-season in recruiting and retaining free agents.

In previous offseasons, rival agents and players would tell you of Durant’s eagerness in talking to potential free agents. So far, that hasn’t been the case with him, sources say. Outside of Irving, the Nets’ most important free agent is guard Patty Mills, who still hasn’t decided whether to exercise his $7.2 million player option. Around the Irving drama, the Nets’ environment has made it harder to keep and court role players, sources say.

Bottom line for Woj?

The preference for everyone — the Nets, Durant, and yes, Irving too — is getting an Irving deal done, getting Ben Simmons productive again and making another run in the Eastern Conference. For now, the Nets are on the precipice. This grand experiment started with Durant and Irving three years ago, and now it’s on the brink with them.

Still, in each appearance on ESPN — he made three, Woj increasingly emphasized worst case scenarios...

“The Nets went into this with their eyes open, knowing he could walk,” said Woj. “He has done things differently in his career, but I think there is a sweet spot for the Nets and Kyrie Irving to find a deal and if they don’t, how does that impact Kevin Durant’s future with the Nets. All of that’s at stake this week

“Kyrie’s best leverage in the pressure Kevin Durant is putting on the organization,” Woj added, confirming that KD has been involved in the negotiations.

The possibility of the Nets losing Irving and Durant was also a topic of discussion on ESPN’s “Get Up,” broadcast before Woj’s appearance on SportsCenter.

Just yesterday, Woj’s colleague, Nets beat writer Nick Friedell, told SportsCenter that the friendship between Irving and Durant “while very close, isn’t always as close as it appears to be.”

However, Friedell also seemed to indicate that the Nets and Durant have yet to have the key meeting over Irving’s contract.

“I can tell you, I’ve been talking to people in the organization the last couple of weeks, when they finally sit down and talk to Kevin throughout the summer, they are trying to figure out if Kevin saw what everybody else saw,” said Friedell. “The reason that whole season got sidetracked was because they couldn’t count on Kyrie, and they didn’t know if he was going to be out there.”

Also Wednesday, Stephen A. Smith, J.J. Redick and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo talked Kyrie, with Smith saying, “He isn’t going anywhere.”

Similarly, Brian Windhorst, also ESPN, thinks it’s all “saber rattling” and most pundits think Irving doesn’t have many options: “His opportunity to go to another team really doesn’t have a lot of teeth in it. If he’s really threatening, he would have to opt out ... and take a $25-to-$30 million paycut ”

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Meanwhile, Kristian Winfield tweeted that the Nets might have interest in 37-year-old P.J. Tucker who is opting out of his $7.1 million contract with the Heat.

“He is great friends – ‘brothers,’ in his words – with Nets star Kevin Durant, and adding a player of Tucker’s ilk would provide a much-needed toughness and frontcourt floor spacing to a Nets team lacking both,” Winfield wrote.

As Winfield also wrote, it would appear that the only way the Nets could sign Tucker is by using the taxpayers MLE, which would max out at $20 million over three years. That would mean a paycut for Tucker. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday night that the Sixers are prepared to offer Tucker, a favorite of Philly GM Daryl Morey, three years at $30 million.

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On the Draft front, John Hollinger of The Athletic reported in his final mock draft that both the Lakers, “and possibly Brooklyn, too,” are trying to find a way into the second round. Neither team currently has a pick in either round. The Nets cannot buy a pick, having exhausted their cash considerations in the DeAndre Jordan salary dump last summer. Cash considerations renew on July 1.