Brooklyn Nets and Kyrie Irving have declared a truce but have yet to begin peace talks and if those talks fail, there is a lot of speculation that the crisis between and team and superstar could still lead to a break-up.
In a lengthy discussion on ESPN’s Get Up Wednesday morning, Adrian Wojnarowski, Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps discussed how the Nets are interested not just in a return by Irving but a “reset” of the team’s relationship with its superstars and its culture.
For Woj, that reset could still lead to a trade. “The Nets could still trade Kyrie Irving if they decided to,” adding that Irving will be easier to deal now that he has opted in.
But most of the discussion was about the need for that “reset,” that the Nets, specifically Joe Tsai and Sean Marks will not put up with what happened last season when Brooklyn went from preseason favorite to win it all to an ignominious end in the Boston sweep. As Windhorst said, the status quo is no longer acceptable.
“Joe Tsai, the owner, and Sean Marks, the general manager, using Joe Tsai’s sentiment, have made it clear that the status quo from last year is not acceptable,” Windhorst began, suggesting that the team’s problems were deep.
“It wasn’t just about how Kyrie treated the vaccine mandate, it was about how he treated his teammates and how Kyrie Irving treated his coaches.
“So part of this renegotiation wasn’t just gonna be about a contract extension. It was gonna be about a renegotiation of the way the team operated. And, by the way, this wasn’t a Kyrie Irving issue. The team gave Irving all of this leverage as the way they operated over the past three years.”
The reset will require both Irving and Kevin Durant to get on the same page as Tsai and Marks, he added.
“Both sides needed to get together. What’s happened here is Kyrie has said, ‘I’m opting in. See you in the fall.’ That’s not the emotion that needs to happen here — and .... It’s not ‘see you in the fall.’ It’s ‘let’s have a discussion about how the fall is going to go now.’
“And if those discussions don’t go well or if Kyrie Irving does come back in the fall and it’s an attempt to be the status quo the way last season operated -= which was a huge failed season, let’s be honest — then I think, it’s not over. So right now, it’s up in the air.”
Woj and Bontemps reiterated Windhorst’s comments with Woj suggesting a continuing tension. He added that the talks leading up to Irving’s decision were an “acrimonious process.” Still, he said the goal is not to move Irving but to change the culture, the relationship between stars and team.
“I think there is tension around this nets organization,” he said. “This was something of an acrimonious process. Kyrie Irving wanted that long term extension with the Nets, didn’t get it. couldn't find it with the nets, tried to find it in sign-and-trade scenarios, specifically with the Lakers. which was his hope, and elsewhere. There were no sign-and-trade scenarios for him to get him a long-term deal elsewhere right now.
“The Nets could still trade Kyrie Irving. if they decided to. and it’s easier to trade him as an expiring contract. There would be teams who would take Kyrie Irving with just this year left on his deal,” he noted, but added, “We’re not there yet.”
The key, he said, as he has said repeatedly during the Irving negotiations, is KD.
“The goal is to have Kyrie Irving on the floor with Kevin Durant and I think that Kevin Durant is really going to impact how this goes. He wanted Kyrie Irving back certainly. He tried to help in some ways to get him that long term deal. It didn’t happen. but he does have him back on the floor. They are both healthy. They have an opportunity to do what they planned to do in Brooklyn and that’s try to win a championship and at some point here.
“It’s going to be incumbent on Kevin Durant to start taking the leadership on of this group, this young team. he has done that in this off-season with his teammates. Guys have gone and spent time and played with him. and Certainly, he’s the very best. That’s going to be, for Kevin Durant for the Nets, paramount to put this group, this chemistry back and see what they can do what they set out to do and again, that’s to win the East and win a championship.”
Bontemps noted that Irving’s decision to opt in was just the first win for the organization.
“It was important for the Nets to win this opening round in the battle. Kyrie wanted a maximum extension and he didn’t get it. His attempt to spin it is, ‘I'm going to back in the fall and I'm opting into the deal that was an admission by him not getting what he wanted. and that’s really the first step.
Now, he said, the organization, the front office, wants to get everyone pushing forward together, but within a different “dynamic.“
“As Brian said, at many points in the past Kyrie and Kevin Durant have gotten what they wanted in Brooklyn. That was sorta what they signed up for, to be in control of what they wanted to with this team,” said Bontemps.
“Now the Nets are trying to reset that dynamic. and the beginning of that was getting Kyrie to do this to opt into the deal and not commit to a long term deal with them. The next thing will be the work they have to do between now and the start of training camp and get everyone back on the same page.”
That may be easier said than done. The Nets have indeed invested heavily in player empowerment, configuring not just the roster but even the starting lineup to satisfy their superstars whether it be dumping Jarrett Allen for DeAndre Jordan as their starting center or dumping their head coach, Kenny Atkinson, and replacing him with Steve Nash or adding, then dumping James Harden.
Not to mention how Irving in the Game 4 post-game famously said he saw himself and Durant “managing this franchise together alongside [owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks].”
In fact, later in the same show, Windhorst said “multiple” team executives have told him that a Nets-Lakers trade centered on Kyrie Irving-for-Russell Westbrook deal is possible “down the road.”
“Obviously when Kyrie opted into his contract, it looked like he had closed the door on the Lakers,” said Windhorst. “And the Lakers dream of getting a Hall of Fame player for $6 million — still in his prime — died. It was very sad for Lakers fans. If the Kyrie coming back to the Nets hits some bumps, and if they explore the possibility ... note I said, ‘if’ ... there are people in this league — agents, executives — believe that the (Nets) talks with the Lakers could be restarted.
“How could they possibly get him? Why would the Nets ever consider taking Russell Westbrook for Kyrie? Why would the Lakers consider paying draft picks? The reason is that in a potential trade like this. the Lakers would save $11 million in actual salary and potentially up to $30 million when you include the luxury tax. Right now, that’s enough reason to include a first round pick in a deal. And if this were to happen in the off-season, the Lakers would presumably have more flexibility with other salaries.
“So, I’m not going to sit here and tell you this is going to happen in the next two days,” Windhorst added. “But if the Nets don’t get to a place with Kyrie Irving where things will improve, I think they could revisit this depending on what else the Nets are looking at, I don’t think it’s possible that this could be looked out somewhere down the line.”
When asked about the number of picks that might be included, Windhorst said “draft compensation” could be negotiated. For the Nets, Windhorst said that with Westbrook’s $47 million expiring deal, the Nets could have salary cap space.