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Is Kyrie Irving bluffing? Nets appear to think so, and there’s little Lakers leverage for him to use

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January 10, 2022;  Portland, Oregon, USA;  Brooklyn Nets defenseman Kyrie Irving (11) and forward Kevin Durant (7) enter the court after a second-half timeout against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.  The Trail Blazers won the game 114-108.  Mandatory Credit: Troy Weirinen-USA TODAY Sports
Nets defenseman Kyrie Irving will decide this week whether he agrees with Brooklyn and Kevin Durant. (Troy Weirinen, USA TODAY Sports)

This can get awkward – in a hurry – for Kyrie Irving.

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Irving wants to leave Brooklyn due to a contract impasse and is therefore looking for his fourth team in six seasons. It’s either that, or he’s trying to scare the Nets into signing him to a five-year, super-max $245 million extension. So far, Brooklyn has shown no interest in it, although it has reportedly offered a multi-year deal at a lower price.

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Irving has until Wednesday to exercise a $36.5 million annual player option. If he refuses, Irving could become a free agent, but he can only fit into a $6 million contract elsewhere. And this is if someone needs it.

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With options shrinking, he’s looking for a way to “sign and trade” – get a supermax with the Nets and then immediately get a deal elsewhere. Brooklyn, however, all but blows his bluff (or hopes he finds a trading partner), telling Irving to go ahead and find someone willing to take him.

Problem: There can’t be anyone, at least other than a desperate Los Angeles Lakers team that clearly doesn’t have many suitable assets that Brooklyn would be willing to take in return.

Irving is a talented player and when he really plays he can be one of the best in the NBA.

He is also an extremely difficult and demanding employee who is about to force himself to give up his third franchise.

That’s why Irving might find it humiliating to find a trading partner. Almost everyone looks at Irving like a hand grenade ready to go off.

In 2017, he turned down Cleveland and LeBron James, with whom he won a championship, to become the best in his own franchise. He now says he regrets this act and blames immaturity for it.

He decided to go to Boston, but managed only two years before the discontent began. This despite the fact that the Celtics surrounded him with a pool of young talent (Jason Tatum, Jalen Brown and Marcus Smart) who thrived after he left.

Irving then went to Brooklyn to partner with Kevin Durant. However, he is now in trouble after three disappointing seasons. The two megastars were expected to contend for the NBA championship. Instead, they teamed up for just one playoff series win.

Irving has played in just 103 regular season games over the past three seasons. Last season, Brooklyn’s chances were undermined by Irving’s decision not to vaccinate against COVID-19 and New York City’s strict protocols.

The Nets fully supported his decision and showed patience for what was essentially a lost season in KD’s heyday. Irving repaid them with a fight over a contract and a bunch of threats.

So it’s “buyer beware”. Or maybe all buyers know this.

ESPN reported that Irving’s preferred list of touchdown spots includes the Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia. The network also reported that only the Lakers were desperate enough to show interest. This is a guy who has only averaged 45 games a season over the past few years and has turned down LeBron, KD, Tatum and more.

You can hardly blame teams – rivals or not – for wondering if Irving is worth it. Anyway, they’d better keep whatever assets they have in case all this drama with Kyrie makes Durant decide he wants to leave Brooklyn and he forces the exchange.

At least you can count on CD.

If there are no options, then the threat of leaving Irving does not have much power. Brooklyn will be able to offer whatever extension it has, or dare Irving to either walk away for $30 million less or play the final season of his $36.5 million deal.

Perhaps the 2022/23 season will turn out better than the other three. It couldn’t be much worse.

Still, Irving is playing a loud, tough game, but perhaps figuring out the reality of how the NBA treats him is very different from how he thinks it treats him.


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