Superstars are the NBA's most precious commodity. Roster building means finding one and then keeping him for as many zeroes as the CBA allows. Sign his friends. Hire his dad. Let him pick the coach. Whatever it takes, because without him you are royally effed.
Some superstars, however, have a habit of wearing out their welcomes. Such a player never lacks for work, because the next organization thinks it can satisfy him where all others have failed. They indulge his eccentricities, weather his moods, placate his whims.
Maybe that means treating him as a de facto general manager, or turning a blind eye to the Hollywood side projects cannibalizing his time, or belatedly allowing him to play road games even though his refusal to get vaccinated in a city with mandates is tearing your team apart.
Maybe the superstar in question is in fact Kyrie Irving, and maybe the Nets have learned a lesson that will soon make the greatest ballhandler ever someone else's problem -- he's simply not worth the trouble.
Per Shams Charania at The Athletic, the two sides are at an impasse with a June 29 deadline looming on Irving's $36.9 million option. Expected to opt in and sign a max extension, Irving might instead enter free agency, where the Lakers and Knicks (snicker) could be among his suitors. The former could crow about their new Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie. The latter will declare themselves back on the map (again).
The rest of us will know better. If he does indeed leave Brooklyn, Irving's new club will soon discover that burning all the sage in the world won't cleanse the organization of his toxicity. Just ask the Celtics.
Irving nearly destroyed them, first with his presence and then via his absence. He spent two tumultuous years decrying how the "young guys on this team just don't get it," to paraphrase, and yet never once considered that perhaps part of his job entailed helping Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum figure it out.
The Celtics reached Game 7 of the 2019 conference finals without him -- a game he missed because nasal surgery couldn't wait a day -- and then they flamed out spectacularly a year later with him, his final moments in green spent kicking rocks while the Bucks torched him for layups.
He promised to re-sign, his presence alone likely attracting another superstar to Boston, only to join Kevin Durant in Brooklyn for what he deemed a homecoming in a slickly produced video that should've been a red flag. Hey everyone, check out my brand! You can't spell, "I am the Brooklyn Nets" without K-Y-R-I-E!
Except now it turns out the Nets might've had their fill, too. Irving just finished unleashing his special brand of chaotic narcissism on the 2021-22 season. A refusal to be vaccinated meant he couldn't play or practice in New York and left him sidelined until mid-December, when the Nets finally allowed him to play on the road.
By that point, All-Star teammate James Harden had had enough, and in February he forced a trade to the Sixers for injured point guard Ben Simmons. So much for the NBA's new Big Three. The trio of Irving, Harden, and Durant only ended up playing 16 games together. Would Harden have wanted out if Irving hadn't missed most of the season? We'll never know, but his absence certainly contributed to the club's dysfunction.
Even Irving's full-time return in late March couldn't salvage the season. The Nets needed the play-in tournament to secure the No. 7 seed vs. the second-seeded Celtics. The frontrunning Irving came out on fire in Game 1 with a scintillating 39-point effort, but he played the part of turnstile on Jayson Tatum's game-winning layup at the buzzer, was fined for making obscene gestures at his former home fans, and turtled the rest of the way, averaging just 15 points a game en route to a sweep.
Tomase: Tatum has what it takes to win a title his way
It was hard to miss just how much better off the Celtics had become without him, Tatum and Brown blossoming into stars, Marcus Smart sliding into Irving's old job at point guard and becoming defensive player of the year, new coach Ime Udoka able to lay down the law in ways that Mr. No One Tells Me What to Do never would've accepted.
As if to reinforce the point, Irving then had the gall to declare that he envisioned "managing the franchise together" with owner Joe Tsai and GM Sean Marks, his powers of delusion on full display. Marks pointedly punctured that assertion by noting his priority was building a team of players who would, among other things, "be available."
And so now here we are, with what should be the obvious decision for the Nets -- keeping Irving alongside Durant -- devolving to the point where they might let him leave even though there's no obvious way to replace him. They can't spend his money on someone else, and they're severely hampered from a leverage standpoint in any opt-in-and-trade.
That they might let one of the most breathtaking talents in the league walk away for nothing tells you all you need to know about his real impact on a franchise. The Knicks or Lakers or Clippers or whomever will undoubtedly be thrilled to get him. They'll declare the past the past and Irving will share his elation at starting a new chapter on his personal journey. He'll probably even smile and be charming.
Then he'll get down to the work of being Kyrie, and for his new franchise I have but two words: