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If you were looking put money on Kyrie Irving returning to the Nets next season, you might want to hold off for now.
Irving’s long-term future in Brooklyn looks uncertain after comments made by general manager Sean Marks Wednesday. Speaking with the media, Marks acknowledged that Irving’s part-time status this season had an impact on Brooklyn’s play and said the team needed players who would be available.
“We need people here that want to be here,” Marks said, via ESPN. “They’re selfless, that want to be part of something bigger than themselves — and there’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here. And in order to do that, we’re going to need availability from everybody.”
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Irving, 30, didn’t hit the hardwood until the turn of the calendar due to New York City’s vaccine mandate at the time. The unvaccinated Irving returned after Brooklyn allowed him to become a part-time member of the team, playing in only away games until the vaccine mandate was lifted within the private sector in March.
“I think it’s obvious,” Marks said. “Whenever you have a key part of your team that’s not available and you’re trying to build chemistry, you’re trying to build camaraderie out on the court, that’s very difficult. And then you have people coming in at certain times of the season. We made what we felt was the correct decision at that particular time to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to have Kyrie around.’
“And we’re going to go off and continue to build and continue to play and then as you saw the load that that was putting on not only Kevin [Durant] but our other players, and then you have the Joe Harris injury and so forth. Then it becomes almost unfair to players, and you’re asking them to take on too much. Then again, the decision was tweaked, what was best for the team, at that particular time — but there was no script.”
Without Irving for the majority of the season, Brooklyn limped into the playoffs after trading James Harden for a package headlined by Ben Simmons, who never suited up for the Nets this season. The Nets’ inconsistent play continued during the first round and Brooklyn was swept by the No. 2 seeded Celtics with ease.
That isn’t to say Irving’s play wasn’t brilliant — in fact — his numbers were right on par with his numbers from previous seasons. In 29 games played during the regular season, Irving averaged 27.4 points per game, 5.8 assists per game, and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Irving must now decide if he wants to pick up his $36.5 million player option for next season. Marks said that conversations with Irving would be ongoing over the next few weeks, but was non-committal about Irving’s long-term future in Brooklyn.
“Look, I think that’s something we’ve been discussing, and we will continue to debrief on and discuss throughout this offseason,” Marks said. “It’s honestly not just Kyrie, you bring Kyrie up, but we have decisions to make on a variety of different free agents throughout our roster. We haven’t had any of those discussions yet so it would 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 and so forth like that. I think we know what we’re looking for. 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 — and that goes not only for Kyrie, but for everybody here.”
Based on Irving’s remarks after Brooklyn’s season-ending Game 4 loss to Boston last month, it would appear that the seven-time All-Star would like to run it back for at least one more season alongside Durant and company.
“When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that really entails us managing this franchise together,” Irving said. “Alongside [Nets owner] Joe [Tsai] and Sean, just our group of family members in our locker room, in our organization. So it’s not just about me and Kev, I don’t want to make it just about that, we’re cornerstones, but we have a few other guys on contract.
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“I think we’ve just got to make some moves this offseason, really talk about it, and really be intentional about what we’re building and have some fun with it, make it enjoyable. …There’s no question about where I’m going and how this is going to happen. I’m here with seven [Durant], but also I’m here to build a great team.”
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