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  • Writer's pictureErik Slater

Kyrie Irving, Covid-19, and Uncharted Territory for the Brooklyn Nets

The NBA season is six days away and the Brooklyn Nets are already off to a tumultuous start.

The organization had high hopes that this was the year Brooklyn’s big three would stay healthy and lead the franchise to its first-ever championship. However, Nets fans know, it’s never easy with this team. Something has to go wrong, and Kyrie Irving is that something.

The seven-time All-Star is ineligible to play in home games due to New York’s vaccine mandate. Nets General Manager Sean Marks announced Brooklyn would not accommodate Irving on a part-time basis.

The message was clear: Get the vaccine or you will not be a part of this team.

Shams Charania posted an article detailing Irving’s reasoning for not getting the vaccine after weeks of speculation. If you’re familiar with how sports media works nowadays, it would be easy to tell this article wasn't written by Charania, as much as it was dictated by Irving’s camp.

“Multiple sources with direct knowledge of Irving’s decision have told The Athletic that Irving is not anti-vaccine and that his stance is that he is upset that people are losing their jobs due to vaccine mandates,” Charania said. “To him, this is about a grander fight than the one on the court and Irving is challenging a perceived control of society and people’s livelihood, according to sources with knowledge of Irving’s mindset.”

The reporter added a source said, “Kyrie wants to be a voice for the voiceless.”

This does not add up.

When asked about his vaccination status at Nets media day, Irving responded, “No comment”. Following a second question on his status, Irving again changed the subject.

“Please respect my privacy, next question,” he said.

If you want to be a voice for the voiceless, then why not use your voice? Why provide no reasoning for your stance and leave the public speculating for weeks?

Kyrie finally addressed the public on Instagram live late Wednesday night. He made several declarations, notably that he would not be retiring and that he has a lot more to accomplish on the court.

He briefly showed a notepad during the video. On that notepad, you could make out, “I was promised exemptions” written under one bullet point. This is surprising as there were no reports of such promise or that the Nets were expecting an exemption.

Overall, the rant was mostly Kyrie talking in circles, drawing attention to himself on a huge scale. The issue with this is not that Irving is objecting to mandates. People are entitled to their own opinions. The issue is that all of this could have been said at media day, or in the weeks leading up to it, in two seconds.

Instead, this only came about right after Brooklyn announced they would not accommodate Irving. It all feels disingenuous. It feels like Irving is upset he did not get his way, as stars usually do, and is pivoting to a "bigger cause" to justify his actions.

We will soon know how committed Irving truly is to making this point. He is set to lose roughly $380,000 per home game if he does not get vaccinated. This would add up to more than $15 million throughout the season. Brooklyn will begrudgingly pay Irving’s salary for away games because his absence is the result of a team decision.

More importantly, he will miss out on what could be the most promising year of his career. Brooklyn is an overwhelming favorite to win the title if Irving is on the court. The guard's presence is a component that would put the Nets over the top. However, Brooklyn is talented enough to win a title without him, a testament to the work Marks has done.

Kevin Durant and James Harden are arguably the top duo in the league. Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton are key returning contributors. Brooklyn improved its depth substantially with the acquisitions of Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter.

Mills is the biggest addition in this group. The guard has played in 90 playoff games throughout his career.

His shooting (39% career from three) is a huge asset in the backcourt. The Aussie shot over 40% from deep on catch and shoot threes in each of the last three seasons, looks he will see at a higher rate while sharing the floor with Durant and/or Harden. No one will replicate the playmaking ability Irving brings, but Mills should offer enough offensively to complement Brooklyn's stars without a drastic drop-off.

Rookie guard Cam Thomas has impressed thus far. The 27th pick out of LSU was named Summer League MVP after setting the league scoring record at 27.0 PPG.

There’s no arguing that Brooklyn’s depth is dramatically better than it was in last year’s playoffs. Even then they were a Durant shoe size away from knocking off the eventual champions with Harden playing on one leg and no Irving.

This team has the talent to go all the way whether Irving decides to be a part of it or not, and he knows it.

Everything that has transpired over the last two days leads you to believe he’ll be back, however long it may take. Until then, the organization will do its best to put this circus to rest.

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