Kyrie Irving will be able to watch the Nets from the Barclays Center bench starting March 7, but right now it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to play, according to statements made by New York City Mayor Eric Adams to CNBC on Monday.
The Nets’ front office will continue to investigate whether there’s a route for Irving to play, coach Steve Nash said before his team’s 133-97 drubbing by the Raptors at Barclays Center on Monday. It was their most lopsided loss of the season.
The Nets, also playing without Ben Simmons (conditioning) and Kevin Durant (MCL sprain), looked thoroughly overmatched — something that was not aided by the fact that Nash had to enter the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols immediately before the game. Assistant coach Jacque Vaughn took over.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 15 points off the bench for the Nets. Scottie Barnes had 28 points and 16 rebounds for the Raptors.
In all, the mayor’s comments, the loss and the glaring absences lowlighted a trying few days for the Nets, who originally were hopeful that Irving would be allowed to play at home after Adams said Sunday that he plans to lift Key2NYC vaccine mandates on "indoor dining, fitness and entertainment venues" such as Barclays Center if COVID-19 numbers continue to decrease.
But further clarification revealed that Irving still will be subject to the city’s workplace vaccine requirement. Adams added that making an exception for Irving would be unfair to other workers who need to follow the mandate.
"It would send the wrong message just to have an exception for one player when we’re telling countless numbers of New York City employees ‘if you don’t follow the rules, you won’t be able to be employed,’ " Adams said Monday. "Listen, I want Kyrie on the court. I would do anything to get that ring. So badly, I want it. But there’s so much at stake here. And I spoke with the owner of the team Joseph Tsai]. We want to find a way to get Kyrie on the court, but this is a bigger issue."
There are built-in exceptions to the workplace requirement — including one that says unvaccinated, non-New York City resident athletes are allowed to compete. But though Irving lives in New Jersey, he’s still beholden to the mandate because his employer is city-based, according to a report in the Daily News, which cited a City Hall official.
Requests for clarification from the mayor’s office were not returned. Irving can apply for an exemption based on religious or medical grounds.
Nash remains hopeful that Irving will play, and it’s abundantly clear that they need him. With Durant out until at least Thursday, no timeline for Simmons and the possibility that Joe Harris will need a second ankle surgery, the team has taken a swan dive in the standings — going from first to eighth with 20 games left in the regular season. The Nets (32-30) are two games behind seventh-place Toronto.
"I think, overall, people are watching the standings, but for us, it’s the process," Vaughn said.
The Nets will take on the Raptors again Tuesday but, despite loosening regulations, unvaccinated athletes still are not allowed into Canada, according to Sports Illustrated, which cited Canadian Border Services. Additionally, if the season ended now, the Nets would have to play the Raptors in the play-in tournament, meaning Irving would be unavailable for the entire series.
Adams stressed that he wants to see Irving play but said the decision must be bound by something more important. "Businesses have their vaccine mandate," he said. "City employees have their vaccine mandates. I have to follow the rules. And trust me, I want Kyrie on the court. We are here right now opening our city because of vaccine mandates."