Kyrie Irving gave it his best no-shot and won
So it’s official. Kyrie Irving won.
He out-stubborned them all — the Nets' front office, two mayors and almost every public health official on the planet.
Five months after his decision not to take the COVID-19 vaccine resulted in his temporary banishment from the Nets and almost three months after the Nets caved in and reinstated him as a road-only player, the still-unvaccinated Irving will make his first appearance on the Barclays Center court Sunday night with New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ blessing.
No matter how you feel about the mayor’s announcement Thursday — and my guess is you don’t feel too good if you are an unvaccinated fireman or policeman or other worker who lost his or her job — the whole way the public vaccine mandate has been handled is beyond confusing.
It’s also, as far as the Nets are concerned, now in the rearview mirror. The question is what lies ahead for them, whether the Nets can fulfill the promise they had at the beginning of the season when nearly everyone was predicting that the Big 3 — remember the Big 3? — were going to roll to an NBA title.
With the full-time addition of Irving, the Nets can contend for a title. That’s how good the combination of Irving and Kevin Durant is.
The Nets have to avoid injuries. They have to get some big-time points from sharpshooter Seth Curry, who is scary enough when he gets hot to spread defenses and take some pressure off the two superstars. Other complementary players — Bruce Brown, Patty Mills, etc. — must have occasional big nights. And they have to at least play some defense.
Ah, yes, the defense. It sure looked ugly Wednesday night in the Nets' 132-120 loss in Memphis. Yet it’s hard to use that game as a measuring stick, considering reports started to come out 90 minutes before tipoff that the mayor was going to reverse his decision and let Irving play at home. This is something the Nets had been hoping for ever since they brought him back in early January.
The return of Ben Simmons definitely would be a big help here, but it’s not sounding good. Since the Nets traded the unhappy James Harden for Simmons, he has gone from a player who just needed to ramp up and get into game shape, to a guy experiencing some back pain, to a guy who apparently has had back problems before, to a guy who had to get an epidural.
Backs are the trickiest of injuries, and it seems risky to bet on Simmons being a major factor in the playoffs.
Sure, it would be one great storyline to have him take the court for a postseason series against the 76ers and Harden. But this is a team with no shortage of storylines.
Can the Nets become the first team to survive an 11-game losing streak and go deep in the playoffs? Can Irving and Durant continue to be so spectacular night after night that it really doesn’t matter that the Nets can’t stop other teams from putting up a bunch of points? Can an eighth-place play-in team — and with nine games left, it seems the Nets are likely to be one — make its way through an incredibly tough Eastern Conference and get to the NBA Finals?
Of course, the best storyline may be whether the Nets can ever be the best story in New York. Can they win over the hearts of a Knicks-and-baseball-centric city? Can they go so deep in the playoffs that they establish a whole new generation of fans?
No, this last one doesn’t seem likely. But neither does anything else involving the Nets this season. Say what you want about Irving, but he is one stubborn and determined dude/contrarian. He picked the Nets over the Knicks with the hope of establishing something big in Brooklyn.
Crazier things have happened.