Kyrie Irving produced a wish list of five teams in case he and the Brooklyn Nets parted ways. But the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks remained a distant second to Irving’s first choice.
Playing for the Nets.
“It’s a matter of taking care of the business first,” a source with knowledge of Irving’s thinking told Bally Sports.
On Monday, the seven-time All-Star decided to fulfill his four-year commitment to Brooklyn and fellow superstar Kevin Durant by picking up his $37 million player option and passing on multiple opt-in and sign-and-trade scenarios, Stadium NBA insider Shams Charania reported. Irving had until Wednesday to make a decision on his player option for next season.
The Nets, despite a second straight early exit in the playoffs, remained Irving’s top preference because of what they can provide as far as money, happiness and opportunity to win now, according to the source.
Reportedly, the Nets have been reluctant to commit to a long-term contract due to Irving’s lack of availability during his three seasons in Brooklyn. Injuries limited him to 20 games in 2019-20 and 54 games in 2020-21. He averaged 27.4 points, 5.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season, but he played only 29 regular-season games due to his unvaccinated status and New York City’s COVID-19 mandates, which prevented him from playing home games at Barclays Center.
The Nets banned Irving from the team for the first 35 games but brought him back in January to play road games. After Mayor Eric Adams lifted NYC’s restrictions in March, Irving played in Brooklyn’s last six home games and final 10 overall.
On Saturday, one report characterized talks on a potential multiyear extension between the Nets and Irving as becoming "acrimonious." But according to the source close to Irving’s thinking, the 30-year-old star and former NBA champion viewed the “posturing back and forth” as normal negotiations while his representation seeks “the best deal possible.”
None of the teams on Irving’s wish list have the necessary space under the salary cap to sign him outright if he had opted out and become an unrestricted free agent. They would have had to work out a sign-and-trade deal with the Nets to acquire him.
According to the source, there was a mutual lack of interest between Irving and the Knicks, who cleared cap space with a series of trades during last Thursday’s NBA Draft to pursue Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson in free agency. L.A. would have been the most intriguing landing spot for Irving, who could've been reunited with other key figures from the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers title team — head coach Tyronn Lue of the Clippers and forward LeBron James of the Lakers.
“Kyrie is open to the possibility of going to the Clippers,” a source close to Irving said before he decided to opt in with Brooklyn. “But that ultimately hinges on his relationship with Ty Lue and how much it has or has not been mended since the Cleveland days.”
The source added there’s no lingering issues between the two: "He and Ty Lue are cool."
In 2017, Irving requested a trade from Cleveland and was dealt to the Boston Celtics. Last month, in an interview with the “I Am Athlete” podcast, he expressed regret about his departure from the Cavs and spoke glowingly of James.
“That was a time in my career that I look back on and we’ve had conversations, me and Bron, plenty of conversations. … That’s my dog, shout out to Bron, man,” Irving said. I definitely feel like me learning from him helped accelerate my understanding of the game that we’re in, the business that we’re in. Because I was watching him deal with it in front of the camera, off the camera. Being LeBron James, that comes with its own responsibility.”
Durant, who followed Irving to Brooklyn in 2019, reportedly has been pondering his own Nets future, but the 12-time All-Star and four-time scoring champ said on his podcast that Irving’s decision won’t affect his plans.
“I can’t be involved … This is the man’s livelihood. This is much bigger than me,” Durant said last week. “Being a free agent is one of the most important times in your career. That can’t be swayed by anyone else. Nothing can happen right now. I don’t think he can make a decision on opting out until the 29th. So I’ll just let things play out and see what happens.”
If Irving and Durant remain with the Nets, they will attempt to live up to the championship expectations bestowed on Brooklyn. The fan base surely deserves the chance to have them run it back after the Nets were swept in the first round by the Celtics. Last year, Brooklyn lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in a second-round series defeat in which Irving and James Harden only played four of seven games.
Irving’s ties to the Tri-State Area remain strong. He grew up in West Orange, N.J., and is keenly aware of the Nets franchise’s history, namely its back-to-back NBA Finals runs in New Jersey with Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson in 2002 and 2003.
Irving revealed years ago that he was a fan of Kidd.
“Watching him play was a pleasure,” Irving said. “His IQ. Just watching the way he plays the game. Not many people have that niche and that feel for the game.”
All eyes have been on Irving to see where he wants to play next season. On Monday, he committed to remaining with the Nets for his 12th NBA campaign.