Once upon a time a Nets general manager inked Kevin Durant to a long-term extension keeping him in Brooklyn. Not long after that bit of business was finished, he made the bold prediction he’d also have James Harden and Kyrie Irving extended as well. That hasn’t gone according to plan so far.
James Harden has millions of reasons not to sign his extension even if it were formally offered (we can infer it most certainly has been). He recently talked about never having had the experience of being an unrestricted free agent. He only has a few days left to sign his, the deadline for that is October 18th. The safest bet is that Harden doesn’t just yet, but signs an even larger record-breaking five-year deal next summer. Kyrie Irving on the other hand could theoretically sign an extension any time this season… if the team were willing to even offer one. It sounds like what was once a mere formality is now off the table since it has become clear he is (currently) unwilling to get vaccinated.
The latest from Shams Charania of The Athletic, appearing on The Glue Guys pod:
“He was willing to sacrifice, at the end of the day, 16 million dollars in salary this upcoming year and 186 million dollars, as far as an extension, that he will not be offered now.”
— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) October 13, 2021
An unvaccinated Irving can not play in home games for the Nets. And the team determined they don’t want him as a part-time player, so they won’t allow him to play in road games either. And now they’re going so far as to revoke his possible four-year $186M extension he would have been able to sign.
There is a sanction dynamic here. Get vaccinated and play ball. Compete for a championship with your teammates and friends. Make hundreds of millions of dollars. Or don’t get vaccinated, miss the year, lose about half of your annual salary, subject yourself to possible trades, and lose out on long-term security via extension. The choice is yours. We respect your choice to not get the shot. Hopefully, you respect our decision not to let you play and not to pay you the big bucks. That’s a lot of pressure to get one shot.
Charania also made headlines recently by hinting at the real reason Irving has not yet been vaccinated.
“Multiple sources with direct knowledge of Irving’s decision have told The Athletic that Irving is not anti-vaccine and that his stance is that he is upset that people are losing their jobs due to vaccine mandates. It’s a stance that Irving has explained to close teammates. To him, this is about a grander fight than the one on the court and Irving is challenging a perceived control of society and people’s livelihood, according to sources with knowledge of Irving’s mindset. It is a decision that he believes he is capable to make given his current life dynamics. “Kyrie wants to be a voice for the voiceless,” one source said.”
It feels at once like yesterday and several years ago that Marks predicted he’d have the big three signed, sealed, and delivered. This just continued to devolve so rapidly. In hindsight, I suppose the Nets simply took for granted that Irving would eventually comply. And perhaps they still have some confidence he will. But all of this hard-ball they’re playing, not letting him play in road games he would be eligible to play in, and revoking potential max-extensions, it wasn’t easy to predict things getting here.
I wrote back on September 23rd that Irving missing time due to vax-status would represent the Nets’ nightmare scenario. But even then, I didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of this story. The craziest thing is that I would be equally unsurprised if any of the following happened: a) Irving missed some time, and then eventually got vaccinated and the Nets blitzed the league and won a chip b) the Nets traded Irving c) Irving wound up retiring. That’s the level of zany we’re currently at!
Would Durant, who is very close with Irving persuade the Nets to wait this out and see if he can get through to Irving? Or would he say ‘forget this, I respect his position as a friend but I need to win another championship and I want someone fully committed so let’s trade him?’ Could the Nets persuade Irving to play for another franchise if they did want to explore a trade or would he just hang it up?
Would another team offer fair value for a mercurial star on an expiring deal mired in such controversy? The Nets best course of action may be to simply wait. It doesn’t appear there are any knock-your-socks-off offers on the table.
By not offering a max extension, the team is continuing their hardball stance. The gauntlet has been thrown, the message is clear. You’re either all in, or you’re out. Sounds like the next move is on Irving, who has yet to even voice his opinion on vaccines. But would the Nets position here make Irving less likely to comply and settle in for the long-haul with the Nets? Could this come across as a lack of support and cause him to withdraw further? Maybe the Nets gamble will work. Maybe it will backfire. Or maybe they’re dealing with such a unique individual it doesn’t much matter what they do at all.