Brooklyn Boro

Kyrie Irving sits as Nets lose in Philadelphia

Point guard still unvaccinated as regular season approaches

October 12, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Most coaches would sign up for Steve Nash’s problems in a heartbeat.

The Nets’ second-year head man gets to work with three of the biggest superstars — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden — in the league in the middle of the biggest media market on earth.

Also, many are predicting that Brooklyn will win the NBA championship this season.

So what could possibly be bothering Nash heading into the 2021-22 regular season?

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Oh right! Irving still isn’t vaccinated.

“This is all stuff that we have to figure out, and as I keep saying, navigate because it’s kind of unprecedented,” Nash noted after Irving sat out his third consecutive preseason game, Brooklyn’s 115-104 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in front of 14,522 fans at the Wells Fargo Center.

Irving did practice with the Nets on both Saturday and Sunday after New York City declared the team’s training facility in Sunset Park a private place of business.

But the superstar point guard remains the lone holdout for vaccination on the Brooklyn roster despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandate for athletes, coaches and staff at all city arenas.

Irving watched as Nash tried to shuffle his guards in a rotation that excluded the seven-time All-Star, who stands to lose more than $15 million of his $35 million salary this year if he remains unvaccinated and isn’t permitted to play any home games in Brooklyn or road games in New York or San Francisco.

Durant scored 23 points and Harden added 21 as both made their second preseason appearance after leading the Nets to the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.

But it was Nash who was left to explain Irving’s continued absences and his refusal to vax up in time for the most anticipated season in Nets history.

“We’re just trying to take our time and not rush into any preconceived judgments of what we’re doing and figure it out as we go,” Nash noted.

Nash, general manager Sean Marks and even owner Joe Tsai have to be miffed.

“I think we recognize he’s not playing home games,” Nash told the New York Post. “We’re going to have to, for sure, play without him this year, so it just depends on when, where, and how much.”

Apparently, Irving is steadfast in his beliefs regarding vaccination and no one can deny him that right.

The only problem is, Durant, Harden, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joe Harris and the rest of the Nets are vaccinated and eager to grab Brooklyn’s first major pro sports championship since 1955.

Not having Irving on the floor for up to 41 home games, not including the postseason, could interfere with those lofty goals.

“At least he can practice,” said Durant, who came to our borough alongside Irving in the summer of 2019.

“But we want him here for the whole thing,” the two-time NBA Finals MVP added. “We want him for games, home games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of it. So hopefully, we can figure this thing out.”

Marks may have to figure out a way to play the season without Irving, either at home or away.

Nets guard Kyrie Irving severely sprained his ankle during Game 4 of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Milwaukee. AP Photo by Morry Gash

The mercurial New Jersey native has been enigmatic in previous stops as well.

He famously left LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers just after helping them to an NBA title in 2016, citing his need to lead his own team.

Irving wore out his welcome in his new home, Boston, rather quickly, struggling to find a comfort zone in the legendary franchise as he quibbled with teammates and the front office.

Since arriving here, Irving has been limited to only 82 games, including the postseason, over two years.

He missed all but 20 contests in 2019-20 due to a bad shoulder and knee.

Irving sat out two weeks last season for as-yet-unexplained reasons while also receiving a fine from the league for violating COVID-19 protocols.

He then missed the final three games of the conference semifinals vs. the Bucks due to a severely sprained ankle.

But none of that supersedes Irving’s unquestionable talent.

He has averaged better than 27 points per contest during his tenure here and scored in his Brooklyn debut.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the one the Nets want Irving to achieve most: Two vaccination shots, the first of which will clear him for all team activities in and around Downtown Brooklyn.

“I want him to be on the team,” Harden declared.

So do the Nets, who paid Irving for a serious run at an NBA championship, something that has averted this franchise to date.

However, if Irving continues to sit out every road game and is not able to participate in team activities due to his vaccination status, Marks and Tsai have a major decision to make.

Kevin Durant scored 23 points Monday night in Philadelphia as he and his teammates played without the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving. AP Photo by Matt Slocum

Do they let Irving’s vax status continue to be an issue for a team that is supposed to be focusing on winning basketball games?

Or do they simply say no thanks to Irving for 2021-22?

Let him sit out the entire season, including the Oct. 19 opener in Milwaukee, and then allow him to exercise his free agency next year.

That’s only a slim possibility at this point.

But as Irving’s absences continue to pile up, the Nets have to get back to the business of basketball.

Even if it means showing Irving the door at some point.

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