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Nets may grow tired of waiting for Irving

Superstar point guard's vaccine status remains a mystery

October 7, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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In a perfect world, Kyrie Irving would step out onto the Barclays Center hardwood Friday night with the rest of his teammates, fully vaccinated or at the very least the recipient of one shot to protect against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But there has been nothing even close to perfect about the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason to date, due mainly to the mysterious status of Irving, who will not be allowed to practice or play alongside his teammates anywhere in New York City until he has proof of vaccination.

Irving missed Tuesday’s practice at the team’s facility in Sunset Park on Tuesday and Nets head coach Steve Nash intimated that there was no plan to have the team practice outside of the city limits so that Irving could participate.

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Friday’s preseason home opener against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks, who knocked the Nets out of the Eastern Conference semifinals earlier this year, will be the newest opportunity for Brooklyn basketball fanatics to see their title contender at Barclays.

Or at least to see almost all of the team.

The Nets, buoyed by the acquisition of Irving and Kevin Durant in the summer of 2019 and the addition of James Harden at last year’s trade deadline, are favored to represent the East in the 2022 NBA Finals and many prognosticators have them winning their first-ever championship.

But those lofty expectations were made with Irving being counted as a part of the Nets throughout the campaign.

As it stands now, Irving can only play in the majority of Brooklyn’s road contests, at least those that are outside of New York City and San Francisco, both of which have mandated that players or workers in and around sporting facilities must have proof of vaccination.

Irving could lose nearly $400,000 per game missed, as per the NBA’s edict the have a fully vaccinated league.

That will add up to more than $15 million of Irving’s scheduled $35 million income for the 2021-22 season.

If the mercurial point guard doesn’t appear at Barclays alongside his teammates Friday vs. the Bucks, the Nets’ preseason problem will continue and may even spill over into the most-anticipated regular season in franchise history.

The Nets have a roster full of talent without Irving.

The question is whether they are deciding now to move on from a player that has already taken several weeks off for personal reasons without giving a solid answer as to why.

Most NBA franchises could make a go of it with Durant and Harden alongside former All-Stars like Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as key role players Joe Harris, Bruce Brown and fast-emerging rookie Cam Thomas.

Irving arrived here with plenty of baggage from his previous two stops in Cleveland and Boston.

He played in only 20 games due to a pair of injuries in 2019-20 and was unavailable for most of the conference finals against Milwaukee last season due to a severely sprained ankle.

The Nets soldiered on, even with Harden nursing a hamstring injury, and took the future champs to a seventh and deciding game, which they lost here in overtime despite the Herculian efforts of Durant.

Irving has every right to reject vaccination due to either his personal beliefs or due to a medical issue.

Kevin Durant (left) and James Harden will have to play without fellow Nets superstar Kyrie Irving on Friday if the point guard is still without proof of at least one vaccination shot. AP Photo by Mark J. Terrill

No one can force a vaccine into his talented shooting arm or make him take one just for the sake of the team.

This decision, and it is a major one, has to come directly from Irving’s mind and heart.

Be it for protection against a deadly virus or just to make sure the Nets don’t have any more off-the-court issues as the season approaches.

The ball is in Irving’s court.

Unless, of course, the Nets decide to move on without him at some point.

Thus far, the organization and his teammates are sticking with Irving.

“I’m envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team,” Durant said Wednesday after Irving missed his second practice in as many days.

“Maybe I’m just naive, but that is just how I feel. But I think everybody here has that confidence in themselves, in our group, that if we keep building, we can do something special.”

Can they do it without Irving?

We might just find out if his vaccination status remains unchanged for much longer.

Nets rookie Cam Thomas might be a potential back-up plan for the still-unvaccinated Kyrie Irving. AP Photo by John Locher

 

NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets will travel to Philadelphia on Monday for an 8 p.m. game that will be televised on ESPN2. It may be the first chance for Brooklyn fans to watch Irving play as he has already missed last Sunday’s game in Los Angeles and will likely be out Friday vs. the Bucks if he hasn’t been vaccinated. The Nets will close out the preseason at home against Minnesota on Oct. 14 before visiting Milwaukee for the regular-season opener on Oct. 19.


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