Nets brace for Kyrie Irving to miss regular season games because of NYC vaccine mandate – The Washington Post

With time running out for Kyrie Irving to obtain full eligibility for the regular season by getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, the Brooklyn Nets acknowledged that their all-star guard will be unavailable for some games because of New York City’s vaccine mandate.
Nets Coach Steve Nash said Sunday that Irving’s status, which has become the biggest question of the upcoming NBA season, remains unresolved.
“I think we recognize that he’s not playing home games,” said Nash, whose Nets are a leading title favorite. “We’re going to have to, for sure, play without him this year. So it just depends on when, where and how much.”
While the NBA doesn’t have a vaccine mandate for players, certain cities, including New York and San Francisco, have enacted rules that require vaccination for members of home teams in those markets. Irving, if he remains unvaccinated, would be ineligible for Brooklyn’s 41 home games at Barclays Center and its two road games against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Per NBA rules, players must be two weeks removed from their final shot to be considered vaccinated. Brooklyn’s regular season home opener is slated for Oct. 24 against the Charlotte Hornets, meaning Irving would have needed to receive the shot by Sunday to be eligible.
Irving would be able to play in Brooklyn’s road games without receiving the vaccine as long as he abides by the NBA’s strict health protocols, which would require him to undergo regular testing, avoid eating with his teammates and steer clear of public socializing at bars and clubs, among other restrictions.
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The NBA announced last month that unvaccinated players will be fined if they are unable to play in games because of vaccine mandates, which could cost Irving roughly $380,000 per game — or more than $16 million of his $34.9 million annual salary. National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts said last week that the union “did not agree” to the league’s pay reduction plan.
While Irving hasn’t conducted interviews with reporters since Brooklyn’s media day Sept. 27, he participated in Nets training camp, which was held in San Diego, and attended — but did not play in — the team’s preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Irving had been barred from practicing with his teammates at the Nets’ HSS Training Center in Brooklyn until New York City authorities ruled Friday that the practice facility was a “private office building” and thus exempt from the mandate.
Irving joined his teammates for an outdoor fan event Saturday and a practice Sunday, but Nash said Irving wouldn’t travel with the Nets to Philadelphia for an exhibition against the 76ers on Monday. The seven-time all-star has yet to take the court for the Nets since he suffered an ankle injury during Game 4 of a second-round series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in last year’s playoffs.
As the preseason has unfolded, the 29-year-old Irving, who participated in media day remotely because the local mandate barred him from attending in person, hasn’t been available for subsequent interviews, citing a desire for “privacy.”
Unlike Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic, Irving hasn’t elaborated on his reasons for remaining unvaccinated or even publicly confirmed his vaccination status. And unlike Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors, a vaccine holdout who got the shot last week so he wouldn’t miss regular season games, Irving has yet to relent.
“I am protected by God and so are my people,” Irving tweeted cryptically Saturday, in just his third post on the social media network since media day. “We stand together.”
Nash and the Nets’ other superstars, Kevin Durant and James Harden, have faced regular questions about Irving’s status, but they have generally avoided any public attempt to influence the situation.
At media day, Durant said vaccination was Irving’s “personal decision,” adding that the Nets “trust in Kyrie” and “expect … to have our whole team at some point.” But Durant, who teamed up with Irving to join the Nets in 2019 free agency, admitted Friday that the prospect of getting only a half-season from Irving would present challenges.
“That’s always tough when guys are in and out of the lineup, especially a starter like Kyrie,” Durant said. “I don’t know exactly what the plan is going forward right now. I’m sure they’re still making decisions. … At least he can practice, but we want him here for the whole thing. We want him here for games, home games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of it. Hopefully we can figure this thing out.”
Harden, who arrived from the Houston Rockets in a January trade, said Thursday that Irving’s status was “out of my control.”
“I want him to be on the team, of course,” Harden said. “Since I’ve been here, he’s been a huge part of our success. … He’s just a special talent that you just don’t really see often.”
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Although the Nets would prefer to have their Big Three fully intact, they are well positioned to get by should Irving miss extensive time. Brooklyn boasted the NBA’s top-ranked offense last season despite a host of injury issues, and Durant and Harden are both former scoring champions who can handle greater offensive responsibilities. During the offseason, the Nets added veteran guards Patty Mills and Jevon Carter to fill out a deep backcourt. Rookie guard Cam Thomas also has impressed as a natural scorer during the preseason.
Yet this Brooklyn era was designed from the start to win with superstars, not cope without them. Since it landed Durant and Irving, Brooklyn has developed a reputation for catering to its high-profile players. The Nets signed DeAndre Jordan, Durant’s friend, to a generous deal in 2019 and gave Irving a wide berth during an extended personal absence last season. Meanwhile, Nash has taken a hands-off approach compared with Kenny Atkinson, his predecessor, and even allowed Harden to dictate the terms of his return from a hamstring injury during the 2021 playoffs.
The Nets’ philosophy is now being directly tested by Irving’s vaccine predicament, while their rivals, including the crosstown Knicks, the Lakers and the defending champion Bucks, have steered clear of the issue.
“The championship team needs to have everybody pulling the same direction,” Nets owner Joe Tsai told the New York Post in late September. “So I hope to see Kyrie play fully and win a championship together with everybody else, with all his teammates. That’s the best outcome for everybody.”
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