Did the Nets really think this was going to go well?
Did they really think that doing an intellectual and moral about-face and welcoming back an unvaccinated Kyrie Irving in the middle of a COVID surge was going to be a good plan?
Nothing that involves Irving is ever easy, and this is proving to be no different. Less than 24 hours after the Nets announced that they would accept Kyrie Irving as a part-time player — he’s not eligible to play in New York or Toronto — the team announced that Irving has been put into NBA COVID protocols. Irving, according to a league source, either tested positive or returned an inconclusive test.
Talk about Karma.
On many levels, it’s hard not to feel bad for the Nets, who announced Saturday that Kevin Durant also is entering the health and safety protocols. Durant and Irving became the eighth and ninth members of the team to enter the league’s coronavirus protocols. Also among the missing for Saturday night’s game against Orlando, were James Harden, Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge.
In other words, the Nets Big 3 are finally together . . . all in COVID protocols.
Three months ago, the Nets took a stand and said that they wouldn’t go forward with a part-time player. It couldn’t have been an easy thing to do, and people around the league admired Nets general Sean Marks for not letting a player hold the team hostage.
Maybe they thought a couple of months of watching his teammates play without him would change Irving’s mind and he would get a vaccination. Or maybe they just figured that it was too disruptive to constantly shuffle their lineups depending on where they were playing. The bottom line is the Nets made it clear that they weren’t bringing Irving back until he "was eligible to be a full participant."
And here’s the weird thing. The Nets, results-wise, were doing just fine, actually better than fine, without Irving.
Entering Saturday’s play they were 21-8 and leading the Bucks by 2 ½ games in the Eastern Conference. Durant has been playing the best basketball of his career — which is really saying a lot — and Patty Mills and Aldridge were playing like they were in the prime of their careers.
The Nets’ goal, of course, is to win it all this year. Having so many players in protocol really put the pressure on superstars to play major minutes. Durant entered Saturday’s game averaging 37 minutes this season, more than he has in eight years. Harden also has been carrying an increased load in order for the team to keep up. This is not a way to keep your top player fresh for the postseason.
There were reports the Nets were under pressure from some agents to bring back Irving and lessen the load on other players.
Marks talked about the decision to bring back Irving: "The overall environment has changed as we’ve all known, drastically, it’s changed not only for the Nets, it’s changed from a staff’s perspective, it’s changed from a player’s perspective, it’s changed with what’s happening outside of Barclays. I walked to the arena today and there’s several lines out there for COVID testing, and there’s 200, 300 people waiting in line to be tested. So the environment’s changed. COVID has done a number on the team and on society in general, so that’s certainly changed. Managing our overall player load, that’s something we’ve gotta be aware of throughout the course of this season. We’ve seen large minutes that our guys have had to endure and play, and we’ve gotta look at what’s best for the team over the course of the season."
Does coach Steve Nash have any reservations about putting an unvaccinated player on the floor? "It’s something to consider," he said. "Having said that, [Irving’s] a young man in great health. I think he’s . . . the odds of him having something catastrophic happen are small. But yeah, this virus concerns me in every corner and aspect of its short life so far. That’s a concern, but it’s also a concern for the vaccinated. So it’s just something we’re having to live with in our world these days. And so we’ll proceed and do the best we can to protect and care for everyone. But this is what it is. We can take as many precautions as we can, and we should, but we’re not going to be able to change it all every day. It’s just a part of how we’re going to have to deal with life moving forward."
No one knows what shape Irving will be in when he returns. Or exactly when he will be able to return, given his recent test. After a three-game road trip that begins next week, the Nets play only two games on the road in the following nine games. So we might not see much of Irving for a while.
Maybe Irving’s return to the Nets will help the team. Maybe everything will go smoothly and he won’t have COVID and he won’t spread it to his teammates despite being unvaccinated. I don’t know.
But I do know this. Irving’s return at a time when New York City has long lines surrounding testing sites and is struggling with the Omicron variant is not a good visual for the Nets or the league.
Something tells me this is not going to go well.