The last episode of Kyrie Irving’s tenure with the Nets has come to an end.
Irving decided to opt for the final year of his four-year contract with the Nets before Wednesday’s deadline, his mother-in-law and agent, Shetellia Riley Irving, told The New York Times.
Irving will earn $36.5 million next season.
“Normal people move the world forward, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow,” Kyrie Irving said in a statement to The Athletic, which first reported Irving’s decision. “I’ve made my decision to sign up. See you in the fall.”
Once Irving officially agrees to his contract for the 2022-23 season, the two parties will have until the end of June 2023 to negotiate an extension that can be worth close to the maximum salary for a veteran player. The Nets will also be able to trade Irving once he officially accepts.
At the end of the season, Irving affirmed his commitment to the Nets and Kevin Durant. Given the chance to do so, GM Sean Marks didn’t reciprocate.
“I think we know what we’re looking for,” Marks said. “We’re looking for guys who want to come here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selflessly, play team basketball and be available. That goes not just for Kyrie but for everyone here.
Irving was eligible for a maximum contract extension this season, but he and the Nets couldn’t reach an agreement on one.
Irving returns to join Durant, the 12-time All-Star and winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2014.
“When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that really implies that we’re running this franchise together alongside Joe and Sean,” Irving said, referring to team owner Joe Tsai after the Nets were swept by the Boston Celtics in April in the first round of the playoffs.
Irving and Durant arrived in Brooklyn in the summer of 2019, avoiding the Knicks, who had also created the salary cap space to sign superstars that summer as well. The promise offered by their union would be delayed: Durant was still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals and would miss the entire 2019-20 season.
The Nets were prepared to wait. Both players had signed four-year contracts; they would have a lot of time together.
This season was interrupted by the pandemic and Irving only played 20 games, in part due to a right shoulder injury. The Nets went into the so-called league bubble at Walt Disney World without either player and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Durant returned for the 2020-21 season, healed and as dangerous to opponents as ever. The Nets traded for James Harden in January 2021, creating what many thought was an unstoppable super team.
They finished second in the East and nearly reached the conference finals, losing in seven games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round.
Then, again, the pandemic complicated things.
Heading into the 2021-22 season, Irving opted out of getting the coronavirus shot, despite a New York City order that would prevent him from playing in Brooklyn without the shot. The NBA has required teams to follow local rules regarding vaccines.
The Nets initially said he wouldn’t be allowed to play until he was eligible for all games. Seeing the toll on their record, they changed course and allowed Irving to play in arenas where he was eligible. He made his season debut on January 5.
For a time, the Nets made it work despite Irving’s long absences. Durant, who signed a four-year extension before the season, helped the team achieve the second-best record in the East the day Irving made his season debut.
Then Durant sprained his knee, leaving Harden as the only star available. Harden got angry with Irving and eventually demanded a trade. The Nets sent him to Philadelphia, acquiring Ben Simmons just before the trade deadline.
Simmons has yet to play for the Nets and underwent back surgery in May.
In March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams changed the city’s ordinance that had banned Irving from playing in Brooklyn, just in time for baseball season, creating an exception for professional athletes and entertainers. Irving made his home debut on March 27.
In all, Irving played in 29 regular season games last season.
When he played, he showed glimpses of the kind of brilliance that made him a coveted player in the past. He scored 60 points in a March 15 win at Orlando, 50 points in a March 8 win at Charlotte and 43 points in a March 23 win at Memphis.
But his return didn’t come soon enough to give the Nets the chemistry they needed to make the playoffs a success.