The Nets had to do it.
After months of asking and then pleading with and then actually contemplating all kinds of difficult and energy-draining accommodations for Kyrie Irving, they did the right thing. They decided to put their team ahead of the needs of an individual player. They correctly concluded that no one, not even someone as talented as Irving, is worth going through the kind of roster calisthenics and daily distractions they would need to endure in order to keep him on the team.
They have decided they are better off with no Irving than a part-time Irving.
The Nets announced Tuesday in a stunningly strong statement that they will not allow Irving to play or practice with the team until he makes himself a full-time participant. Irving has not publicly revealed his vaccination status, but the team has said he is ineligible to play 43 games in New York — all home games and two at Madison Square Garden — because of a local mandate requiring at least one vaccination.
When general manager Sean Marks spoke to the media via a video conference call on Tuesday, he left no doubt when asked directly if Irving is vaccinated. "Well, if he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion," Marks said. "I think that’s probably pretty clear."
What also is clear is that the Nets are tired of letting the needs and beliefs of one player dictate how their team is run.
"At the end of the day, we’re looking to put a group of people that are going to be able to participate fully, and that’s what this comes down to," Marks said. "And we’re not looking for partners that are going to be half-time. I don’t think that would be fair not only on the team, staff, ownership, and fans, but, to be quite frank, not fair on Kyrie, either. When you’re putting someone out there that potentially can’t get the right ramp-ups and build-ups and so forth, and look as good as he or the team should under a different set of circumstances, that’s ultimately why this decision was made."
The Nets don’t need Irving to win a championship, and winning a championship remains their goal. Yes, they would like to have him. Yes, they are a better team with him. And yes, they will welcome him back. But only if his status changes so that he is available full-time.
In the meantime, this team, with or without Irving, is stacked. They have the best player in the league in Kevin Durant and another top-10 player in James Harden. They also have a strong supporting cast in Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap.
One has to wonder what Durant, who recently signed a four-year contract extension with the Nets, thinks about all this. The big reason that he came to the Nets is that he thought it would be cool to play with his friend Irving and Irving thought it would be cool to play for the Nets, the team he grew up cheering for.
This fact likely made the decision of Marks and owner Joe Tsai doubly hard. If it hadn’t been for Irving, Durant might be playing for the Knicks or one of the half-dozen other teams that wanted to sign him as a free agent. Maybe the team felt it owed Irving a little something for this. Maybe that’s why the Nets tried to work so long with him, why they actually considered what it would be like having him as a part-time player.
In the end, the Nets decided they just couldn’t do it. They picked their team first.