Kyrie Irving is not sacrificing anything meaningful by opting in to play with the Nets again next season.
Don’t let his lofty words on Twitter mislead you: Irving will make $37 million next season, which — along with his failure to find a viable sign-and-trade option — is probably the biggest reason he opted into the final year of the deal.
“Normal people keep the world going, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow. I’ve made my decision to opt in. See you in the fall,” Irving wrote, according to the Athletic.
If only we were all as brave as the man who accepted the opportunity to play a year of basketball for $37 million.
Irving probably does feel a certain amount of responsibility to his friend Kevin Durant, who filled one of the “two max slots” with him on the Nets roster. Durant bolted from a Warriors team that just won a championship without him for the chance to build something of his own with Irving in Brooklyn.
But staring at a dry sign-and-trade market and the somewhat bleak possibility of signing a mid-level exception deal worth roughly $6 million with the Lakers, Irving made the only sensible choice signing on for a prove-it season before hitting unrestricted free agency.
That sets Irving up for the most important season of his career — if he hopes to make big money going forward, he needs to show he is a net-positive despite his defensive struggles, and he needs to play a lot of games.
But that’s a different story. Interestingly, Irving’s decision to re-sign might be good news for an Atlantic Division opponent: The Celtics.
After all, the Celtics just swept the Nets in the first round — not an easy sweep by 2-seed vs. 7-seed standards, but certainly the Celtics’ easiest series of the playoffs. Ben Simmons might make a difference since he defends Jayson Tatum better than anyone the Nets feature heavily, but he’s a tough needle to thread offensively. Joe Harris can shoot and could be back, but he’s another target defensively on a team that features several.
The Nets, meanwhile, employ one superstar and two flawed stars with a lot to prove. That could mean they coalesce, but it also could mean competing agendas for a pair of players in Simmons and Irving that haven’t shown a lot of interest in team goals over the course of their careers.
If Irving and Durant broke up, the results might have worked in the Celtics’ favor if one or both players ended up in the Western Conference, but it might have been disastrous. Imagine a Jimmy Butler-Bam Adebayo-Kevin Durant trio in Miami, for example, or even a Kevin Durant-Bradley Beal duo in Washington (which might have been a less dysfunctional version of Irving/Durant in Brooklyn). There’s no guarantee either team would have been perfect, but both could have been grueling for a healthy Celtics team, and the Heat in particular showed they are a highly capable threat to the Celtics’ hopes of getting back to the Finals.
To make matters more complicated, rumors about a potential Jaylen Brown for Kevin Durant deal only would have gotten louder — chatter that, apparently, has already reached Brown. Irving’s departure would have turned that up several decibels, and the noise was already starting to get loud.
Instead, Durant and Irving — a pairing that doesn’t appear particularly promising, especially as both players get older — will try to drag a flawed Nets roster deep into the playoffs. Maybe it works this time. After all, Durant is an all-time great, and Irving is an incredible talent on his best nights.
But presumably, the Celtics aren’t sweating buckets thinking about facing a Nets team they just swept. The enemy you know (and recently vanquished) is preferable to the one you don’t.
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