The Brooklyn Nets faced a tough decision regarding controversial point guard Kyrie Irving’s future with the team, and it looks like general manager Sean Marks won’t offer Irving a contract extension this offseason.
Irving has a player option in his current contract for this upcoming season with the Nets worth $36.5 million, but he’ll become a free agent if he doesn’t exercise that option. Otherwise, if Irving opts in, he will become a free agent at the end of the 2022-23 season.
But, with the mercurial Irving, you never know what’s really going on inside his head.
With no contract extension, it looks like the Nets are telling Irving, “Win us a title in 2023, and then we’ll give you the bag.”
Irving played 27 games this season averaging 27.4 points and 5.8 assists per game. He shot 46.9% from the floor, including a 41.8% clip from 3-point range. Irving was also money at the free-throw line at 91.5%.
The Nets opened as the outright favorite to win the 2023 NBA Championship at +500 odds, according to DraftKings. Now that the Golden State Warriors are one victory away from locking up a spot in the 2022 NBA Finals, and just five wins away from a championship, the Warriors saw their 2023 title odds bump to +500. Both the Nets and Warriors are currently co-favorites to win next season.
Nets: rough, disappointing season
The Nets won the Play-In Tournament in the Eastern Conference to secure the #7 seed, but were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round and made a quick exit. The Nets were one of the betting favorites to win the 2022 championship, but they failed to even win a single playoff game this postseason.
The Nets lost their best sharpshooter when Joe Harris required season-ending ankle surgery. An unvaccinated Irving couldn’t play home games at Barclay’s Center (or at Madison Square Garden) due to NYC’s health mandate. The Nets put Irving on ice until they were decimated with a COVID-19 outbreak and then called him back into duty — albeit only in road games. NYC changed its health mandate and Irving would be able to play at home in the postseason, but it didn’t matter because the Nets were swept by the Celtics.
James Harden had grown increasingly disgruntled with Irving the Nets. The Nets realized that Harden wasn’t the same scoring monster he was during his peak years with the Houston Rockets. A combination of injuries and old age — not to mention a lively lifestyle — made Harden not as fierce or as effective during his time in Brooklyn. The Nets decided to trade Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for their disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons.
However, Simmons had sat out the entire first half of the season due to his issues with the 76ers. He wasn’t ready to play by the time the Nets acquired him. He also suffered a setback when trying to get into game shape when he herniated a disc in his back and wasn’t ready to join the team in the postseason.
Better luck next year?
Simmons had off-season back surgery while Harris will be ready to go by the time preseason rolls around. Durant is a year older, but he’s still one of the best players in the NBA. That means everything comes down to Irving: if he can play an entire season without any extended mental health absences, then there’s no reason why the Nets can’t be a title contender in the 2022-23 season.
“Our goal remains the same,” said Marks. “Our goal is going to be, for the foreseeable future, to be the last team standing. So there is a lot of questions that both Steve Nash and myself and the rest of the organization have to look in the mirror and ask each other, was that the right decision? And at the time was that the right decision? Could we have done something slightly different?”
Hardcore basketball junkies will critique the Nets’ antiquated ISO-heavy offense. Basketball nerds are perplexed that Nash doesn’t have a more innovative offensive scheme considering he played “quarterback” under Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” offense as the point guard of the Phoenix Suns in the early 2000s.
The Nets also have to tighten up their defense. The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics — the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference — are fighting for the conference crown and a berth in the NBA Finals. It’s no coincidence that the Celtics and Heat are also the two-best defensive squads in the East.
“Did we take a step back? Without a doubt,” added Marks. “The culture isn’t what it quite was. It’s going to be our job to pick that up.”