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Is Kyrie Irving bluffing? Nets appear to think so, and there's little Lakers leverage for him to use

Editor’s note: Kyrie Irving reportedly exercised his player option shortly after publication of this column.

This could get awkward — in a hurry — for Kyrie Irving.

Irving wants out of Brooklyn due to a contract impasse and thus is seeking his fourth team in seven seasons. Either that or he is trying to scare the Nets into signing him to a five-year, $245 million supermax extension. So far Brooklyn has expressed no interest in that, although it has reportedly offered a multiyear deal at a lower number.

Irving has until Wednesday to exercise a one-year, $36.9 million player option. If he declines it, Irving can enter free agency, but he may fit into only a $6 million contract slot elsewhere. And that’s if anyone wants him.

With dwindling options, he is seeking a sign-and-trade — get the supermax with the Nets and then get immediately dealt elsewhere. Brooklyn, however, is all but calling his bluff (or hoping he finds a trade partner) by telling Irving to go ahead and find someone willing to take him.

The problem: There may not be anyone, at least other than a desperate Los Angeles Lakers team that doesn’t apparently have many appropriate assets Brooklyn would agree to take in return.

Irving is a talented player and when he actually plays can be one of the very best in the NBA.

He’s also an extremely difficult and demanding employee who is about to force himself out of his third franchise.

Nets guard Kyrie Irving will decide this week if he’ll opt in with Brooklyn and Kevin Durant. (Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s why Irving may find his quest for a trade partner to be humbling. Pretty much everyone looks at Irving as a hand grenade ready to go off.

In 2017, he bailed on Cleveland and LeBron James, with whom he’d won a championship, to be the top dog on his own franchise. It is a move he now says he regrets and blames on immaturity.

He chose to go to Boston but managed just two seasons before dissatisfaction set in. This was despite the Celtics surrounding him with a mother lode of young talent (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart) that thrived once he left.

Irving next went to Brooklyn to partner with Kevin Durant. Yet that now appears in trouble after three underwhelming seasons. The two megastars were expected to compete for NBA championships. Instead, they combined for just one playoff series victory.

Irving played just 103 regular season games the past three seasons. This past season, Brooklyn’s chances were wrecked by Irving’s decision to not get the COVID-19 vaccine and New York City’s strict protocols.

The Nets offered full support for his decision and patience with what was essentially a lost season of KD’s prime. Irving has repaid them with a contract squabble and lots of threats.

So it is “buyer beware” out there. Or maybe it’s all the buyers are aware.

ESPN reported that Irving’s preferred list of landing spots include the Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia. The network also reported that only the Lakers were desperate enough to express interest. This is a guy who has averaged just 45 games a season the past few years and bailed on LeBron, KD and Tatum, et al.

You can hardly blame teams — be they contenders or not — from questioning whether Irving is worth it. If anything, they are better off saving whatever assets they have in case all this Kyrie drama makes Durant decide he wants out of Brooklyn and he forces a trade.

At least you can count on KD.

If there are no options, then Irving’s threat of leaving doesn’t hold much power. Brooklyn would be able to offer whatever extension it has or dare Irving to either walk away for $30 million fewer dollars or play the final season of his deal at $36.9 million.

Maybe the 2022-23 season turns out better than the other three. It can’t be much worse.

Regardless, Irving is playing a high-profile game of hardball but potentially finding out the reality of how the NBA views him differs greatly from how he thinks it views him.