BOSTON -- Barring an unexpected change of heart that no one - including the Boston Celtics - anticipate, Kyrie Irving will officially become an unrestricted free agent at midnight by not opting into the final year of the five-year, $94.3 million deal he signed in 2015 while in Cleveland.
By hitting free agency, the six-time All-Star is bypassing the $21.3 million he would have been due for the 2019-2020 season, to instead sign a longer deal that could pay him significantly more regardless of whether he re-signed with Boston or plays elsewhere.
It became clear months ago that Irving had every intention of becoming a free agent this summer, when he explained why not signing a four-year, $101 million extension didn’t make any sense.
But who Irving signs with, remains a mystery.
On October 4, Irving indicated he wanted to re-sign with the Celtics this summer which was well received by Celtics fans and ownership.
But a few months later, “Ask me July 1” was his response when asked about a return to Boston.
Despite the opt-out, Irving still hasn't ruled out Boston as a destination, according to a Boston Herald report late Wednesday.
Still, the uncertainty is why a handful of teams such as the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets made sure they created enough salary cap space to sign Irving to a four-year, $141 million max deal as well as leave enough room for a second, max-salaried player to join him.
Most league sources have for months talked about Irving taking his talents away from Boston this offseason, with the plan being to team up with at least one other perennial superstar - New Orleans’ Anthony Davis or Golden State’s Kevin Durant being the two most talked about. Irving reportedly parted ways with his longtime agent and joined Roc Nation Sports, the agency that represents Durant.
But this offseason has brought about unexpected developments that make the chances of Irving leaving Boston to play with either Davis or Durant, far more complicated.
Davis’ current team, the New Orleans Pelicans, won the NBA draft lottery and will select Duke phenom Zion Williamson which makes it more daunting for any of the teams pursuing Davis who were planning to use having the top overall pick (New York Knicks; yup, I’m talking about you) as a trade chip to get a Davis deal done.
And when New Orleans’ recently hired president of basketball operations David Griffin reportedly told teams what he’s looking for in a Davis deal - a proven All-Star, a young player with All-Star potential, and a pair of first-round picks - that shrunk the number of potential teams significantly which is why there’s more talk that a third team would have to be involved.
As for Durant, his Achilles injury has the potential to sideline him for most if not all of next season.
When he does return, there’s no telling how much of an impact the injury will have on his overall game.
Still, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Boston on Wednesday that regardless of the diagnosis and timetable for his injury, there will still be teams besides Golden State willing to offer the future Hall of Famer a multi-year, max contract.
But the injury certainly makes it more of a jump ball as to whether he will indeed hit free agency or pick up the $31.5 million option he has for the 2019-2020 season and spend it rehabbing with the Warriors.
However, let’s for a minute buy into the narrative that regardless of his health, Durant is out of the Bay after this season.
And let’s keep with the popular theory that he takes his talents to New York and signs with the Knicks.
Knowing he would be out for most if not all of this upcoming season with no assurances he would be the same dominant player we have seen for years, would Irving be willing to take that chance?
Because if Durant is out, would Irving be in a better situation basketball-wise with that team than the one he is in now?
And if you’re the other New York team in the mix for Irving - Brooklyn - are you willing to sign Irving and Durant knowing one will be out for a significant period of time?
Irving hitting the free agency market, that was a no-brainer.
But the next move he makes?
Not so much.
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