The betting last summer was that Kyrie Irving — like Kevin Durant — had played his last game with the Nets. The two sides’ inability to find agreeable terms on an extension — followed within days by Durant’s trade request — seemed to signal that the New Jersey Nets fan and seven-time All-Star was headed for the door. Then, Irving and his agent and stepmother Shetellia Riley Irving forged a separate peace with the Nets that led to his and ultimately KD’s return.
This season, after he was embroiled in an anti-semitic controversy and suspended eight games, a new round of betting had him once again exiting stage left, via a trade if one could even be arranged. How could the Nets keep up with the string of controversies — MIA one season, joining anti-vaxxers the next then the anti-semiticism? It got personal with fans and NBA players accusing Joe Tsai of worse human rights violations than Irving. At the same time, the Nets were losing and playing poorly as well. Enough, already.
Then, this happened...
Well, actually not just this ... a whole lot of this. The Nets, led by Ky and KD are on a roll and the vibes from owner to ballboy seem fabulous. Jacque Vaughn has gone from “write-in” candidate for the head coaching job to a real candidate for Coach of the Year.
So what’s the betting now? Will the Nets keep Irving, offer him an extension, for how long and when? Tsai can sign him to an extension of up to $198 million over four at any point in the season or in free agency.
Mark W. Sanchez of the Post writes Wednesday that with things going so well, there’s no leverage in betting against Irving and the Nets continuing their “partnership,” a word the Nets like to use to describe their relationship with their superstars.
As he wrote, “The present is promising, which means the future might have a delayed expiration date.”
Sanchez relies heavily on the analysis of Bobby Marks, the former Nets GM and now an ESPN “front office insider.” That Marks (no relation) thinks that the Nets and Irving could come to an agreement on an extension but doesn’t believe it will come in a traditional package.
“I don’t think it’s crazy,” Bobby Marks told Sanchez Tuesday. “I think [Irving returning to the Nets is] probably more likely than not ... “We know what happened early in the year, but he’s warranted at least for now a new contract with Brooklyn.”
“I do still think it’s hard for a team to commit more than two seasons to him,” Bobby Marks added. “I think the days of a four-year, $200 million player — unless it’s Brooklyn, which I don’t think it is — are long gone for him.”
Would that lead to more protracted and hardline talks ... Durant’s friendship with Irving and the prospect of another trade request hovering above it all?
There doesn’t seem to be any traction for a deal before free agency, assuming both sides want one. Irving is making $36.9 million this season, what Bobby Marks called “a show-me, prove-it contract.” So in the meantime, there will be speculation aplenty, particularly if the Nets, Irving and Durant continue down this glory road.
The Nets at least at this point would seem to hold most of the cards but if Irving continues to perform at this level ... and without controversy, the advantage could shift from organization to player. Other teams might consider taking a chance on giving Irving a big deal. There was speculation on Zach Lowe’s podcast the other day about the possibility of Houston making a bid in the off-season.
There’s little doubt that Irving, at 30 years old, is a good bet physically over the short or long-term. Few if any NBA players take as good care of their body as Irving does.
“I’ve been working on my body for the last year and a half, two years especially recovering from that traumatic ankle injury I had during the 2021 playoffs,” Irving said after the Spurs game, Sanchez writes. “I just felt like I didn’t have my feet underneath me at the end of last season, so coming into this season I definitely put an emphasis on being more on my toes and getting stronger.”
Bottom line: betting against the continuation of the Irving-Nets partnership has proven risky in 2020, 2021 and 2022. So beware of doing the same in 2023.
“I went on national TV when [Irving shared the anti-Semitic film] and said, ‘When do we get to the point of enough’s enough? When you cut ties with him?’ ” Bobby Marks told Sanchez. “And things have turned around remarkably for everyone.”
- Kyrie Irving making case for Nets to consider giving him max contract - Mark W. Sanchez - New York Post