Kyrie Irving is a bit of an enigma. Maybe that’s how he likes it. The player who once admitted he believes the Earth is flat seems to march to the beat of a different drum. Remember when he disappeared from the team last season for “personal reasons?” The Nets’ brass certainly does.
We still don’t know the exact reasons Kyrie Irving is not vaccinated or if he plans to change that in the future. We don’t know if he’s investigating some type of exemption that would allow him to play hoops in Brooklyn this season, something he’s not currently eligible to do for the Nets.
On media day he asked for his privacy on the matter rather than clear things up. More recently, Nets general manager Sean Marks reminded us it’s a private matter.
“It’s a private matter, and he needs to talk to the right people and figure out in his close circle what he wants to do.”
Since then we learned Irving is now able to practice with the Nets, but we can’t say much about how Irving feels.
It’s easier to follow this massive story from the perspective of some other Nets.
The Nets have consistently preached that they expect everyone to be able to play. The team’s governor, Joe Tsai, is pro-vaccine. He discussed how he respects this issue as a personal health matter, but he reminded everyone publicly that the ultimate goal here is to win a championship.
More recently, it appeared the Nets were stepping up a hardball approach. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst:
“If Irving remains unvaccinated, the Nets could soon be faced with a decision on whether they’ll allow Irving to come and go with the team in and out of New York — or just keep him sidelined all together, sources said.”
So this talk about the Nets not necessarily being open to him as a part-time player is at least a verbal hint: We’re not cool with you playing only home games. Don’t think you can just make that decision for all of us.
Kevin Durant even changed his tune a little bit. Recall on media day when asked by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst if he expects this to be an issue where Irving isn’t around for Nets home games, KD said the following:
“I expect it not to be. It’s on Kyrie and that’s his personal decision. I expect us to have our whole team at some point.”
A couple of weeks later, per New York Post’s Brian Lewis, KD still sounds reasonably confident but adds that he could be naive. That qualifier at least hints maybe (just maybe) Irving doesn’t have KD’s full support on this matter in the Nets’ inner circle.
Kevin Durant on Kyrie Irving's absence: "I'm envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team. Maybe I'm just naïve, but that's just how I feel. But everybody here has that confidence in themselves and our group, that if we keep doing it we can do something special.” #Nets #NBA
— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) October 6, 2021
There’s also a sanction dynamic here. If Irving gets vaccinated, he can play in every game and help the Nets win a title. He can sign a 4 year $187M extension, one the team would probably be thrilled to offer if he were already jabbed up.
Here is what Kyrie Irving stands to lose financially:
$381,181 for every missed home game
💰2 preseason games: $762K
💰41 home games: $15.6M
💰2 games at NYK: $762K
Irving is also extension eligible: 4 years/$187M
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) October 6, 2021
If he doesn’t play in Nets home games, he stands to lose a truckload of money. The penalties for not complying are severe. The financial and basketball benefits in complying are tremendous. There’s a lot at stake.
But Steve Nash made clear that things aren’t necessarily going to plan for the Nets:
Steve Nash on Kyrie Irving: "I think we recognize he’s not playing home games. We’re going to have to for sure play without him this year. So it just depends on when, where and how much." #Nets #NBA
— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) October 10, 2021
Nash adding that we’re going to “have to for sure play without him this year” is shocking, even if you already expected it. How this whole thing got to this point is fascinating. Especially given how confident and casual GM Sean Marks sounded on the topic when it first came up. Did Marks have some indication weeks ago that things would work out for the Nets? Did that change? Or are we learning that Marks can be a bit overly optimistic on big-ticket items?
Sean Marks said he was confident every player would be vaccinated and both James Harden and Kyrie Irving would be “signed, sealed and delivered” with contract extensions before training camp. …This is not going according to plan.
— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) October 11, 2021
What we can say is this: the Nets’ position is becoming clearer, even if Irving’s is not. They don’t seem to expect him to be around for home games, and they don’t sound sure if they’d want him around for road games then either. In other words, they’re not cool with this situation at all. As for Kyrie Irving? He posted a cryptic IG picture captioned “the return.” So maybe he’s set to return soon and is just trolling us all somehow.