To say the Brooklyn Nets' season was a disappointment would be a massive understatement. This is a team that, entering the season, was considered a title favorite. But instead Brooklyn was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics -- leaving the Nets as the only team this postseason that didn't win a single game.
Several factors played into that outcome, as James Harden's forced trade to the Philadelphia 76ers left the Nets down a star player as their return piece of Ben Simmons didn't suit up for a single game. Then there's the even bigger factor that Kyrie Irving played in just 29 games this season due partly because of New York City's vaccine mandate, and also because of the Nets' unwillingness to have him play in road games until January. There was also Kevin Durant's MCL injury that forced him to miss over a month and a half of games.
Injuries are things you can't control, and the Harden-for-Simmons swap was also something the Nets had little control in given Harden's desire to play in Philly. So, as Brooklyn looks toward the offseason, one of the biggest things it may be looking to change is Irving's long-term status with the team. Irving has a $36.5 million player option that he can decline this summer to become an unrestricted free agent. He's said on multiple occasions that he wants to stay in Brooklyn, but the Nets may not feel the same in offering him a long-term deal.
Per New York Daily News:
"...The Nets' championship hopes hinge on an amicable solution with Irving, whose personal decision not to get vaccinated and unpredictable injury history have left the Nets hesitant, and now, according to a source familiar with the Nets' thought process, outright unwilling to give him a long-term extension."
That's a pretty strong switch in stance from the Nets compared to when general manager Sean Marks said prior to the start of this season that he was confident. Marks also said Harden would be signed to an extension, but the universe clearly had other plans for that as well.
But given everything that transpired with Irving this season, primarily his refusal to get vaccinated, and his injury history overall, it's not surprising that Brooklyn is taking a more cautious approach with the All-Star guard going forward. With COVID-19 cases spiking again across the country, there's the possibility that New York could reinstate its vaccine mandate, which could potentially sideline Irving again.
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Signing him to a long-term extension comes with some risks, but so too does not giving him an extension. If Irving declines his player option and the Nets come to the table with a new contract he doesn't like, Brooklyn would be taking the gamble of losing him for nothing. That's a sizable risk to take, and it could have ripple effects on Durant's desire to stay in Brooklyn if Irving -- part of Durant's reason for signing there in the first place -- is no longer with the team. Durant hasn't talked to Nets management since the team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs, per New York Daily News, and while that might be nothing, it could also be a sign of his frustration.
Irving has about a month left to decide if he wants to opt-in on the final year of his contract. Which also means the Nets have the same amount of time to decide what they want to do with him going forward. If Irving opts in, it will only push the issue further down the road to the summer of 2023. But if he opts out and becomes an unrestricted free agent, it'll force Brooklyn to make some tough decisions about the future of this team.