October 3, 2022

Kyrie Irving getting back his $36.9 million option to stay with the Nets next season didn’t end the drama between him and Brooklyn. It just pushed him on the road a little bit.

Any questions – around the length and dollars of a new contract/extension for Irving, his desire to find a way to join LeBron James on the Lakers (something a source told NBC Sports is real), Irving’s relationship with Kevin Durant and how KD will react if Irving leaves Brooklyn – are still all on the table. They will play next season and next summer.

Irving’s latest comments on this and everything else come from a video he posted from North Dakota, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Read what you want there.

“It’s a big moment in my spiritual journey, being present enough to understand that it’s not me doing all this. At this point, I’m being pushed in certain directions,” Irving said, adding, “You can’t be afraid to make mistakes, privately or out in the open. The mistakes you make, you have to learn from.

The Nets’ first challenge this fall is rebuilding the franchise culture that made Irving and Durant want to go in the first place — which has to come from inside the locker room. Coach Steve Nash needs to work with Irving and Durant on that.

Brooklyn owner Joseph Tsai and general manager Sean Marks want to change what they now see as an overly permissive culture with their superstars — which ESPN’s Brian Windhorst talked about on ‘Get Up’ — but they need to. of Irving’s buy-in to get him to treat his teammates and coach differently (for the record, his teammates generally like him). Team culture is not imposed from the top down; it is built over time and must start with the team’s best players. Stephen Curry defines Warriors culture, LeBron James defines Lakers culture (and Kobe Bryant before him), Tim Duncan defines Spurs culture, and the list goes on. Durant and Irving must set the tone in Brooklyn.

The Nets “won” their chicken game with Irving and got what they wanted: Him on a short contract with a drive to play big and play well heading to unrestricted free agency. Nets ownership and management sent the message that they were unhappy with Irving’s commitment in recent years.

But to achieve this, they have created tension and mistrust – and that may not be able to be fixed.

The Nets are betting “winning cures all ills” and that will bring this team together. It’s not hard to imagine: a healthy and committed Irving and Durant, a healthy Ben Simmons ready to accept a role, a healthy Joe Harris plus Seth Curry, more good actors (and they can add more with some business exceptions and the mid-level ratepayer exception) and this team is a title contender. If the Nets get off to a quick start and are at or near the top of the East by Christmas, maybe it all comes together this season and beyond.

Or, maybe they’re off to a slow start, there’s infighting and frustrated/pout players, and it all goes awry, leaving the Nets looking for Irving trade options at the deadline.

Irving at the Lakers is not off the table. Maybe if things go wrong in Brooklyn this season, the Nets would consider an Irving for Russell Westbrook plus a draft pick trade, and maybe the Lakers would be open to that (there’s a lot of “ifs”) to get there, but it’s not impossible). If a residence in Los Angeles is really what Irving wants, he’s a free agent next offseason, and even though the Lakers still won’t have cap space at Irving’s level (they can get to around $20 million), Los Angeles will have the flexibility to probably resolve something (flexibility they didn’t have this summer because of past decisions).

All of this means the drama, the soap opera around Kyrie Irving and the Nets is far, far from over.

At least some of that will shift to on-field issues starting in the fall.