Less than two hours after this piece was published, the Nets announced that Kyrie Irving has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, because of course he did.
If the Nets didn’t play in Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving would have been able to play all season, like the other unvaccinated players in the NBA. It’s because of New York City’s vaccine mandates that Irving has not been playing, and also because the Nets decided in October that they did not want to deal with only having Irving available for road games.
“My job here is to make what we deem as the best decision and best choices for the organization moving ahead as a whole,” said Nets general manager Sean Marks in October, when the decision not to let Irving only show up for road games while remaining unvaccinated was made. “They’re not always ones that are going to be met with open arms and a thumbs-up. These are hard decisions.”
The Nets, without Irving, have gone 21-8 so far this season, leading the Bucks by two and a half games in the Eastern Conference. That’s not to say it’s been easy for Brooklyn. It’s taken Kevin Durant playing some of the best ball of his career, averaging a league-leading 29.7 points per game while James Harden has taken time to adapt to new rules interpretations that basically amounted to a crackdown on James Harden’s offensive style. Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge also have contributed more than anyone could have expected at this stage of their careers.
But the Nets, at this moment, are in a bind. Harden, Aldridge, DeAndre’ Bembry, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter, James Johnson, and Paul Millsap all are in health and safety protocols. Durant has been pushing himself to a physical level that raises questions about whether he can keep it up through the spring. Even one of the reinforcements, David Duke Jr., is now day-to-day with a hip issue.
The Nets’ decision to bring back Irving is understandable on those grounds, as repulsive as it is morally. It also does not make sense as a way for the Nets to deal with their current issues. As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported, Irving is “expected to take his time ramping up again” and has to have five consecutive days of negative tests before he can rejoin the team, with daily tests after that because he’s unvaccinated. Also, the Nets are “unclear [about] the kind of shape he’s in.”
By the time Irving is even eligible to play a game, Thursday night at Portland, the Nets should be starting to get players back from the COVID protocols. That’s the start of a three-game West Coast swing, after which Irving would only be available for two games in a three-week stretch. That is, if he manages to stay healthy despite his refusal to get his shots.
So, the Nets get all of the headaches of having Irving as a part-time player, which they decided months ago was a bad idea, while not knowing whether to expect him to be his usual self on the court, the guy who makes the headaches arguably worth it. At least now that so much of the team has had the coronavirus, they’ll have developed antibodies to go along with being vaccinated, mitigating the risk of hanging out with an unvaccinated dude?
It’s all so unnecessary. The Nets have been the best team in the East without Irving. Sure, they’re depleted now, but their next five games are home against Orlando and Denver, then at Portland and the two Los Angeles teams. Even with a roster depleted by the virus, it’s not as if Brooklyn is in danger of relinquishing that East lead. It’s certainly not like they’re in any danger of missing the playoffs. But they very well could be messing with the good thing they’ve got going this year.
It assuredly was a hard decision for the Nets to tell Irving thanks but no thanks on being a part-time player at the start of the year. It should have been an easy decision to keep it that way, and now Irving can come back knowing that if he holds his breath and stamps his feet long enough, the Nets will do whatever he wants.