It’s still the biggest question hanging over the Nets: Will Kyrie Irving play this season?
The seven-time All-Star has already missed one-third of the 2021-22 campaign, and it’s unclear when (or if) he will return to the court. Under New York City’s guidelines, unvaccinated Knicks and Nets players are not allowed to enter their home arenas for games, and Irving is currently not compliant with the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Prior to the start of the season, Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks announced that Irving wouldn’t play for the Nets until he is “eligible to be a full participant.”
But perhaps something has changed recently. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Monday that there is a “renewed sense of optimism” about Irving’s potential return.
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Why are the Nets optimistic about Kyrie Irving playing this season?
New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams made it clear in November that the city would not be changing its policies, so there are only two options for Irving and the Nets: Either Irving gets fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or the team allows him to be a part-time player. Charania didn’t indicate the reasoning behind the optimism, only noting that Brooklyn players and coaches “want Irving to rejoin the team as soon as possible.”
There has also been an “increased level of enthusiasm” between Irving and Kevin Durant, who admitted the team was feeling the effect of Irving’s absence amid some early-season struggles.
“Yeah, we do miss Kyrie. We do,” Durant said in October. “He’s a part of our team, but for the most part, we’ve been generating great shots. We’ve been getting into the paint. It’s just a matter of us knocking them down. I think it’ll come.”
After being asked about the difference between the teams offense last season as compared this season, Kevin Durant jokingly says “Yeah, we do miss Kyrie”
He adds “It’s just a matter of us knocking them down, I think it’ll come” pic.twitter.com/UhLFbBSlCG
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) October 28, 2021
Irving fueled rumors of a return by posting a video of himself wearing the Nike Kyrie 8 shoe shortly after Charania’s report was published. However, it’s possible that this was simply a case of Irving promoting the latest edition of his sneaker.
How Kyrie Irving could return to the Nets
In order to be a “full participant” for the Nets, Irving would need to receive two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If he remains unvaccinated, Brooklyn could let Irving play in road games and sit out home games. He would also be available for practices at the team’s facility because the city determined that it qualified as a “private office building” rather than an indoor gym.
While it seems highly unlikely that Adams lifts the mandate in the near future, Nets coach Steve Nash has previously said that, if the city did change its policies, Irving would be brought back into the fold and wouldn’t necessarily need to be vaccinated.
“I might be speaking out of turn, but I think if the mandate changes, he’d be welcome back for sure,” Nash said in November.
Steve Nash on the status of Kyrie Irving if mayor-elect Eric Adams lifts the New York City vaccine mandate:
“If the mandate changes, he’d be welcome back for sure” pic.twitter.com/RktJwZkS7a
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) November 3, 2021
Could the Nets trade Kyrie Irving?
Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported Tuesday that Brooklyn “has been open to discussing trades for Irving,” but none of the Nets’ conversations have generated “significant traction.” It would be a major shocker if the Nets decided to trade Irving, not only because they want him to help them in their pursuit of a championship, but also because potential suitors wouldn’t have any guarantees Irving would stay beyond this season.
Irving has two years and roughly $71 million left on his current contract, but he has a player option for the 2022-23 season. If Brooklyn did trade Irving, he could play out the 2021-22 campaign and then choose another team in free agency.
If Irving remains unvaccinated deep into the season, the Nets may be forced to change their stance. As of right now, though, it’s hard to envision Brooklyn moving Irving, especially if the team truly feels optimistic about his return.
Nets upcoming schedule 2021-22
(All times Eastern)
|Dec. 14||vs. Raptors||7:30 p.m.||—|
|Dec. 16||vs. 76ers||7:30 p.m.||NBA TV|
|Dec. 18||vs. Magic||7:30 p.m.||—|
|Dec. 19||vs. Nuggets||7:30 p.m.||NBA TV|
|Dec. 21||vs. Wizards||7:30 p.m.||TNT|
|Dec. 23||at Trail Blazers||10 p.m.||—|
|Dec. 25||at Lakers||8 p.m.||ABC / ESPN|
|Dec. 27||at Clippers||10:30 p.m.||NBA TV|
|Dec. 30||vs. 76ers||7 p.m.||NBA TV|
|Jan. 1||vs. Clippers||7:30 p.m.||—|