October 3, 2022

Despite a report that the Nets are “totally unwilling” to re-sign Kyrie Irving long-term — and speculation about his trade — all indications point strongly to a reunion between Brooklyn and its All-Star point guard.

Irving has until June 29 to decide whether he will opt out of the final $36.5 million year of his contract for 2022-23 and become a free agent. But Nets and league sources told The Post an extension was more likely.

“It would be unfair of me to comment on what it’s been like between us and Kyrie because to be quite frank he has decisions to make on his own. So he has to look at what he’s going to do with his option. player,” Nets GM Sean Marks said last month. “We’re looking for guys who want to come here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selflessly, play basketball as a team and be available.”

Irving has played in only half the games possible since joining on a max deal in 2019, missing 123 of 226 regular season tilts. This has led to reports and speculation of the Nets refusing to sign him long-term or deal with him, with The Athletic disputing a rumored deal with the Lakers for Russell Westbrook.

Kyrie Irving should return to the Nets.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

But Irving is still not only close friends with Kevin Durant, but has a good relationship with team owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai. The Post reported last month that a return to Brooklyn seems like a done deal, and the feeling around the league is that Irving will re-sign.

“I most agree [likely] it’s coming back,” Hoopshype cap expert Yossi Gozlan told The Post. “As far as a contract, I would probably try to pick him up at an annual rate at what he’s currently earning. They could give him a contract below the maximum with unlikely incentives that allow him to reach the maximum. Improbable Incentives are capped at 15% of a player’s salary in any given year, so they can get their salary up to 15% lower and then give them Incentives to allow them to get the full max.

“He should step aside and negotiate a new contract with these new incentives.”

Irving’s refusal to adhere to New York’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates essentially cost Irving 53 games and likely contributed to the Nets’ early exit from the playoffs. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Irving having made just 29 appearances means that benchmarks of 60, 50, 40 and even 30 games would qualify as ‘unlikely bonuses’.

And while only $687,500 of Irving’s $34.9 million salary this year and $718,750 of next year’s option fall into that category, the Nets will likely try to protect themselves as much as possible.

“I agree he’ll be back,” said former Nets assistant general manager and current ESPN insider Bobby Marks, suggesting, “A contract that includes games played doesn’t trigger every season as far as his salary is concerned.”

Kyrie Irving, left, and Kevin Durant
Kyrie Irving, left, and Kevin Durant are close friends.

An example Bobby Marks gave was a three-year maximum extension that was 100% guaranteed in year three if he played 60 games in 2022-23 and 2023-24. Another would be annual bonuses of $6 million for logging 65 appearances; that is, a three-year, $138 million deal with $120 million guaranteed and $18 million in unlikely bonuses.

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

While Irving lost time due to shoulder surgery in 2019-20, he missed nine games last season on personal leave and 53 this season due to being denied a vaccine. Gozlan didn’t think a language could be written to separate games missed for injury and personal reasons.

“I don’t believe so, especially since there are rules prohibiting incentives for a player to be on a roster for a certain amount of time. Nor can they be based on the number of games a player has played for. player is dressing/is eligible to play,” Gozlan told The Post. “The NBA hasn’t made any exceptions for COVID absences either, so I’m pretty sure those are just matches played during the period.”