We're now into December, and there has been no progress on the Kyrie Irving front.
It was back in late September around Brooklyn Nets training camp when we first began to hear rumors he was not vaccinated. That was an especially big deal since New York City has local vaccination mandates which apply to venues like Barclays Center. Those mandates don't appear to be going away, even with a pending regime change in City Hall early next year.
As a result, the Nets have a massive decision to make.
Brooklyn can change its position and allow the 2016 NBA Finals winner to play in road games where he is eligible. The Nets can take the drastic step of trading him. Or they could continue as they are, with a superstar out of the lineup and headed for unrestricted free agency, where he'd likely change teams leaving them empty-handed.
The optics surrounding Joe and Clara Wu Tsai changing their current organizational stance would be ugly. It would look like they compromised their principles and caved in. That doesn't feel likely at all. And Irving doesn't appear remotely interested in changing his mind, either, prompting a stalemate.
The latest from Shams Charania, of The Athletic, appearing on The Pat McAfee Show:
“Kyrie Irving, he's not anywhere closer to getting the vaccine so if he's not gonna get the vaccine, at the end of the day he's not gonna play basketball unless he's traded….The Nets have been open, if teams want to inquire and put in offers for Kyrie Irving, I think they have no choice at this point because it’s a guy that isn’t available to play.”
"Kyrie Irving is nowhere closer to getting the vaccine & he's not gonna play basketball unless he gets traded" ~@ShamsCharania#PatMcAfeeShowLIVE pic.twitter.com/HkNO09TIKz
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) December 2, 2021
That update came just after we learned the following from SNY's Ian Begley:
“To that end, it’s worth noting that, as of late last month, Brooklyn remained open to talking trades involving Irving, per SNY sources. ESPN reported in late October that the Nets were taking calls on potential Irving trades, but not making them. In the weeks following that report, several teams said Brooklyn has continued to take that approach with the All-Star guard.”
So if the local regulations aren't changing and Irving is resolved not to change, the decision is pretty straightforward. The Nets can't afford to take a passive approach here. They can't wait for deals to present themselves. It's time for Brooklyn to prioritize finding a trade that they like.
It can take a team weeks or months to find a win-win deal. Most of the time, one doesn't materialize even when a team would prefer a swap. Just ask the Philadelphia 76ers. But the NBA trade deadline is February 10th, just over two months away. And if GM Sean Marks' phone is not ringing off the hook, the least he can do is start making calls.
Irving is on the books for $34.9 million this season, with a player option he's unlikely to exercise for 2022-23. So Brooklyn would need a team with copious amounts of cap space (like the Oklahoma City Thunder) to absorb his salary, sending back young players who make much less money in return. The other, more likely option would be finding a team willing to match salaries.
We can infer that a team like the Sixers or Los Angeles Lakers would love to exchange a high-paid but questionable fit like Tobias Harris or Russell Westbrook, respectively, for a lethal scorer like Irving. Those offers seem absurd today. Reports have been that the Sixers are not interested in trading Ben Simmons for Irving. Too bad, because that would be a huge lift for Brooklyn's rotation and title hopes when compared to their status quo.
But what if February 9th comes and goes with no changes? Would the Nets feel any differently if their choice were simply to add Westbrook to this current roster, or are they comfortable continuing to lean on a combination of DeAndre' Bembry and Cam Thomas to fill those minutes?
It's quite the predicament and many fans wonder if the Nets would be less reluctant to seek a trade if they had the blessing of Kevin Durant, Irving's close friend. Would KD grant them his permission if that deadline started to creep up? He didn't try and stop the team from preventing Irving from playing in road games or practicing while unvaccinated.
Indeed, finding a star anywhere close to Irving's talent level might prove an impossible task given his combination of personality, vaccination status and contract status. How can a team offer fair value when they're reasonably wondering if Irving would even suit up before potentially fleeing for another team come July?
Even if the Nets could sign-and-trade Irving for something of value during the offseason, that won't help them this April. The takeaway should not be that trading Irving is impossible, so the Nets shouldn't bother trying. The takeaway should be that trading Irving before the deadline might be the team's best chance to get Durant and James Harden some help in one of the few remaining years of their primes, while also getting something back before losing Kyrie next summer. And that's definitely worth exploring.
A deal worth doing may never develop. If Mark and company call all 29 teams and don't find something they love, they can always stay pat and just continue to hope Irving gets vaccinated. But if there is something out there that helps Brooklyn recoup some of the value it's losing right now, the front office won't find it by waiting for the phone to ring.
Marks needs to start making calls… like yesterday.