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For Kyrie Irving and Nets, road to reunion could take many paths

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Time is of the essence.

Three weeks from now, the Nets and Kyrie Irving’s relationship will reach another milestone. Irving will have to decide whether to opt out of his $36.5 million player option for next season, become a free agent or extend his stay in Brooklyn. As Brian Lewis reports Tuesday, Irving’s future will be determined soon after that. There are, of course, rumors and speculation on which way things will go, everything from a sign-and-trade to a full, five-year $248 million extension and everything in-between. The reality, however, remains that both sides want to get something done. The big issue is what a new contract will look like.

As Lewis writes...

Despite a report that the Nets are “outright unwilling” to re-sign Kyrie Irving long term — and speculation about him being traded — all indications strongly point toward a reunion between Brooklyn and its All-Star point guard ... Both Nets and league sources told The Post an extension is more likely.

The report Lewis mentioned was Kristian Winfield’s story of two weeks ago in which the Daily News writer suggested the “Nets endgame is much closer than it appears” and a failure to re-sign Irving could ultimately lead to Kevin Durant’s departure.

Lewis on the other hand notes that there are a multitude of paths the Nets and their superstar guard could take to get things patched up and moving forward, despite Sean Marks criticism of Irving’s “availability.” Irving has missed 123 of the Nets 226 games since he joined the club in the “Clean Sweep” of 2019. The key, he argues, is what incentives the two sides agree to.

“I agree most [likely] he comes back,” Lewis quotes a league source who is “well-versed in the salary cap.” “As for a contract, I’d probably try to get him back at an annual rate at what he is currently making. They could give him a contract below the max with unlikely incentives that allows him to reach the max. Unlikely incentives are capped at 15 percent of a player’s salary in a given year. So they can make his salary 15 percent less than the max, then give incentives to allow him to get the full max.

“He would have to opt out and negotiate a new contract with those new incentives.”

The starting point to those “unlikely incentives” might very well be number of games played. Under league rules, an incentive is deemed “unlikely” if the player didn’t achieve them in his most recent season. Irving played 29 games last season, so if his new contract contains “benchmarks of 60, 50, 40 and even 30 games would qualify as ‘unlikely bonuses,’” as Lewis writes. And if Irving his healthy and available, those benchmarks should be easily achieved.

“I agree that he will be back,” ex-Nets assistant GM and current ESPN Insider Bobby Marks told The Post, suggesting, “A contract that includes games played doesn’t trigger every season as it relates to his salary.”

One example Bobby Marks gave Lewis was a three-year max extension that was 100 percent guaranteed in Year 3 if he played 60 games in 2022-23 and 2023-24. Another, Bobby Marks suggested, would be annual $6 million bonuses for logging 65 appearances; ie, a three-year $138 million deal with $120 million guaranteed and $18 million in unlikely bonuses.

“I think it is best to use the three-year contract with the last year guaranteed if he plays in 65 games or more in 22/23 and 23/24,” Bobby Marks told Lewis.

The first source told Lewis that the incentives could not be written in such way to separate out injury-related absences from unexcused absences like those he took in 2020-21.

To sweeten the deal, the the Nets and Irving could agree to other incentives more easily achieved based on both individual and team milestones. There’s no indication of where talks between the two sides stand.

Meanwhile, Charles Barkley provided his opinion, suggesting a prove-it construct.

“If it was me, I would say, ‘Hey, guy, we can’t trust you, what you’re going to do,’ ” Barkley, said on Wednesday as he promoted the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament. “We’re going to pay you that $36 million next year to see if you’re going to act right. If you don’t act right with $36 millon, you definitely ain’t going to act right with $240 million. I’m not giving you a four-year extension for $200 million because we can’t count on you.”

Marks said at his and Steve Nash’s May 11 press conference that the two sides hadn’t yet talked. It’s hard to imagine that’s still the case, but one thing is clear: Neither side is talking to the mainstream media or through social media, which is probably a good thing.