Kyrie Irving
Troy Wayrynen | USA TODAY Sports

The Nets called Kyrie Irving’s bluff. And it worked.

The mercurial point guard has exercised his player option for the 2022-23 season, seemingly saving Brooklyn’s grand superteam experiment for at least the time being. Irving exercised the option Monday night, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania — who has been a frequent recipient of leaks from Irving’s camp — and is committing a fourth year to the Nets and buddy Kevin Durant.

Charania tweeted this quote attributed to Irving: “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 will make $37 million next season. His decision comes two days before the Wednesday opt-in deadline. It also comes hours after a report — also from Charania — that Irving was given permission by the Nets to investigate sign-and-trade deals with other teams.

Charania says Irving is bypassing “multiple opt-in and trade scenarios,” but that feels like spin. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier Monday the Lakers were the only team interested in a sign-and-trade for Irving. But such a deal was a non-starter given the Nets had no interest in the packages Los Angeles could offer to reunite Irving with LeBron James. So, in short, it appears Irving’s realistic options were to opt in and get paid $37 million by the Nets or become a free agent and sign a $6 million mid-level exception deal with the Lakers. And he made the obvious choice.


Irving’s return should eliminate the possibility Durant demands a trade. And it keeps the Nets among the ranks of championship contenders. In that sense, it’s a big win for general manager Sean Marks, head coach Steve Nash and owner Joseph Tsai. But it remains to be seen if his decision is little more than a temporary fix.

His refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine pushed James Harden to Philadelphia and torpedoed the Nets’ title hopes last season. He has also found myriad reasons to not play during his time with the team aside from a significant injury history. The Nets had plenty of valid reasons to hesitate on giving him the long-term deal he sought this summer. And those reasons have not gone away.

The Nets will be in the mix as long as Durant and Irving are on the roster, assuming Irving actually plays. But they have little salary cap flexibility to enhance the team around them. And who knows what the Nets are going to get out of Ben Simmons moving forward. So this is likely not the end of the drama, but merely the start of a new phase of it.

James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]

 

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.