The muddied situation surrounding Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status got even murkier Wednesday with word that the Nets aren’t sure of Irving’s plans or how they will keep him in shape — considering he’s banned from team facilities, And Kevin Durant suggested that he may be “naive” in thinking his good friend will be part of the team … although he called him irreplaceable.
Of the lot, Durant’s comments were the most interesting. The two players — both teammates and friends — have been in lock-step with the team since arriving more than two years ago. Was there a divide between them on this issue?
“I’m envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team,” KD told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “Maybe I’m just naïve, but that is just how I feel. But I think everybody here has that confidence in themselves, in our group, that if we keep building, we can do something special.”
Durant also suggested that Irving’s talent would be impossible to replace.
“He is dealing with something personal right now,” Durant said. “And while he is dealing with that, we are going to focus on us here in the gym and keep working. When they are ready to figure that out, he’ll figure it out.”
“I mean he’s a special player so it is going to be hard to duplicate what he brings,” Durant added. “But professional sports are about the next man up mentality so we are looking forward to guys stepping up and filling in that role as best as they can.”
Durant said he hadn’t offered Irving any advice.
“No, I don’t go out giving advice like that,” he said. “This is his decision, that’s his choice, we all respect it, this is way bigger than hoops. I don’t even feel comfortable talking to him about stuff like this. I am just here to support and come in here and do my job as one of the leaders on the team. And when things get figured out, I got trust and hope that it will get figured out.”
Steve Nash spoke as well Wednesday and offered a less than optimistic view of whether everyone will be good to go by Opening Night in Brooklyn, October 24.
“I don’t know, I can’t answer that,” Nash told reporters. “As it stands now, no. So we’ll see what happens. I don’t really want to speculate on something that is just currently up in the air.”
Nash also there will be other logistical issues associated with Irving’s separation from the team. How does he stay in shape? He can’t practice at either HSS or Barclays. Nor can he train at the two facilities.
“I don’t know the answer to that but I imagine it would have to be his own regimen,” Nash said. “We haven’t discussed that yet. We’ll see. If that’s something that we discuss, I don’t think it’s something that I’d share with everyone what we’ve asked him to do. It’s not something we’ve discussed.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Sean Marks told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the team is not distracted by what’s going on, that it’s a bigger deal outside the club than inside.
“It’s definitely out in the Twitterverse more than it is in our locker room, without a doubt,” Marks says. “All I can tell you is what he’s told everybody: 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.”
Beyond the city’s stringent regulations, cities like Los Angeles and Toronto have instituted their own restrictions on unvaccinated players in the last two days, the Toronto law carrying criminal penalties for violating quarantine. The NBA will have its own rules for vaccinated players that will cover all games in all cities. The unvaccinated player won’t be able to dine in same room as other players, must stay six feet away from teammates in team meeting scenarios and be assigned a locker distant from the others. Not helpful for team bonding.
The Nets are still not certain of Irving’s plans, whether or when he might get the vaccine. Publicly and presumably in private as well, Joe Tsai and Sean Marks have expressed respect for Irving’s stance but also made it clear there is a goal, that is winning a championship.
Unlike other NBA players who haven’t been vaccinated, Irving has not even confirmed his status. Nor has he said publicly whether he’s opposed to COVID vaccines, all vaccines, hesitant or simply researching the issue and thus leaving open the possibility. That’s because he has said nothing all.
What are the incentives that might get him jabbed? Would peer pressure work? How about the financial pressure of losing $381,000 in salary per game, starting Friday? Would his status with the NBA affect his status with NIKE who after all doesn’t want one of its biggest stars sitting when his latest shoes drop next month? NIKE declined comment on Irving to TIME, but the magazine noted that the company has a vaccine mandate in place for its U.S. employees.
And at some point, perhaps closer to the opener in Barclays, might the Nets set a deadline for a decision? It seems highly unlikely that at this point they’d be engaging with other teams. Nothing is settled and it’s not an ideal market for a player stuck in the midst of a controversy, no matter how good he is. Lots of questions.
Michele Roberts, the president of the players union, said Wednesday that one of those incentives, the $381,000 per game penalty, may not be available.
“We’ll see about that,” Roberts said of the NBA’s plan to dock players salaries. “They’ve been reporting that we’ve agreed that if a player who was not able to play because of his non-vaccination status, they could be docked (pay). We did not agree. The league’s position is that they can. We’ll see. If we get to that point, we’ll see.”
For now and until Irving decides what he’ll be doing, the Nets will have to see as well, hoping for the best but fearing, like Durant, they’re a bit naive.
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