Kyrie Irving next contract, Brooklyn Nets, $356 million, will he leave, Kevin Durant, NBA free agency

Although the Nets and Kyrie Irving are at an impasse in their talks, the two sides are still working to find a middle ground in Brooklyn rather than an exit strategy. Or as a source told the Post “which is good for both [sides].”

The impasse in contract talks between the Nets and their enigmatic All-Star is not the first, and it may not be the last. Considering Irving’s history with the Nets — or more accurately, his unavailability for them — guaranteed that what was already going to be a messy negotiation was going to take its toll.

These recent reports are the first. First came an earlier tabloid story stating the Nets were “absolutely unwilling” to grant Irving a long-term extension from Monday’s report in The Athletic of “a stalemate.” Now comes a story from Bleacher Report that the dialogue should “be fluid in the run-up to her decision.”

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The decision would include the June 29 deadline to collect his $36.9 million (A$53.5 million) player option for next season. Declining it doesn’t guarantee Irving’s departure, as he can still sign an extension. And getting it back doesn’t guarantee it stays, as it might make it easier to move via trade.

While any Irving trade would likely be a complex three- or four-team deal and more likely to happen before Thursday’s draft than after, it’s still not likely.

Multiple league sources said the perception is that this is a game of poker being played by Irving to bluff Nets general manager Sean Marks into concessions, as The Post reported on Monday. An ESPN report confirmed Tuesday, and most players in the league believe a return to Brooklyn is the likeliest end result.

Irving has expressed a desire — both during the regular season and again after they exit the playoffs in the first round — to stay in Brooklyn. And the Nets are the only team that can offer him a five-year, $245.6 million (A$356 million) contract. But it is exactly what sources have suggested that is at the heart of the problem.

Irving having played only 103 of a possible 226 regular season games since arriving in Brooklyn – running out of time not only for unavoidable injuries, but for personal time off and refusing to get a COVID-19 shot – The Post and others have reported that the Nets are intent on protecting themselves in any extension.

Brooklyn can make up to 15 percent of Irving’s next contract — about $6 million — payable as “unlikely bonuses,” offering 10 times the protection of his current contract. But sources have suggested the length of the deal is more of a sticking point than money; Irving wants a longer contract, while the Nets prefer a shorter contract.

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As such, rumors that Irving could become available have been around the league since last month’s NBA Draft Combine, according to Bleacher Report.

The Athletic cited cross-town rivals the Knicks as interested in Irving, as well as the two Los Angeles teams. But the Lakers and Clippers would almost certainly have to acquire him via sign-and-trade, which would leave them on the ceiling. (Irving taking his option ahead eliminates that concern, which is why that would be the most likely route if he left via trade).

Knicks Tom Thibodeau is an Irving fan, but according to Bleacher Report, their priority is to sign Dallas free agent Jalen Brunson. And while it’s theoretically possible for the Knicks to free up enough space to inking Irving as an unrestricted free agent if he steps down, that would require stretching contracts, doing salary dumps and essentially move mountains.

This article originally appeared in the New York Post and has been republished with permission.

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