All signs pointing to Kyrie Irving returning to Nets

Despite a report that the Nets are “outright unwilling” to re-sign Kyrie Irving long term — and speculation about him being traded — all indications strongly point toward a reunion between Brooklyn and its All-Star point guard. 

Irving has until June 29 to decide whether he will opt out of the final $36.5 million year of his contract for 2022-23 and become a free agent. But both Nets and league sources told The Post an extension is more likely. 

“It’d be unfair for me to comment on how it looks with us and Kyrie, because to be quite frank he has some decisions to make on his own. So he has to look at what he’s going to do with his player option,” Nets GM Sean Marks said last month. “We’re looking for guys that want to come in here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selfless, play team basketball, and be available.” 

Irving has played just half the possible games since arriving on a max deal in 2019, missing 123 of 226 regular-season tilts. That’s led to reports and speculation about the Nets either refusing to sign him long term or dealing him, with The Athletic disputing a rumored deal to the Lakers for Russell Westbrook. 

Kyrie Irving is expected to return to the Nets.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

But Irving is still not only close friends with Kevin Durant, but maintains a good relationship with team owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai. The Post reported last month that a return to Brooklyn appeared a fait accompli, and sentiment around the league is Irving will re-sign. 

“I agree most [likely] he comes back,” a league-source well-versed in the salary cap told The Post. “As for a contract, I’d probably try to get him back at an annual rate at what he is currently making. They could give him a contract below the max with unlikely incentives that allows him to reach the max. Unlikely incentives are capped at 15 percent of a player’s salary in a given year. So they can make his salary 15 percent less than the max, then give incentives to allow him to get the full max. 

“He would have to opt out and negotiate a new contract with those new incentives.” 

Irving’s refusal to adhere to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates essentially cost Irving 53 games and likely contributed to the Nets’ early exit from the playoffs. If there is a silver lining, it’s that Irving having made just 29 appearances means benchmarks of 60, 50, 40 and even 30 games would qualify as “unlikely bonuses.” 

And while just $687,500 of Irving’s $34.9 million salary this year and $718,750 of next year’s option fall into that category, the Nets will likely try to protect themselves as much as possible. 

“I agree that he will be back,” ex-Nets assistant GM and current ESPN Insider Bobby Marks told The Post, suggesting, “A contract that includes games played doesn’t trigger every season as it relates to his salary.” 

Kyrie Irving, left, and Kevin Durant
Kyrie Irving, left, and Kevin Durant are close friends.

One example Bobby Marks gave was a three-year max extension that was 100 percent guaranteed in Year 3 if he played 60 games in 2022-23 and 2023-24. Another would be annual $6 million bonuses for logging 65 appearances; ie, a three-year $138 million deal with $120 million guaranteed and $18 million in unlikely bonuses. 

“I think it is best to use the three-year contract with the last year guaranteed if he plays in 65 games or more in 22/23 and 23/24,” Bobby Marks said. 

While Irving lost time to shoulder surgery in 2019-20, but missed nine games last season on personal leave and 53 this season to his vaccine refusal. The source didn’t think any language could be written in separating games missed for injuries versus personal reasons. 

“I don’t believe so, especially since there are rules saying that incentives aren’t allowed for a player being on a roster for a certain amount of time. They also can’t be based on how many games a player dresses for/is eligible to play for,” the source said. “The NBA also didn’t make exceptions for COVID absences, so I’m pretty sure it’s just games played period.”

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