Kyrie Irving forced the Brooklyn Nets into an unprecedented corner, and they responded with an unprecedented move.
Nets owner Joe Tsai and GM Sean Marks, presumably with the consent of stars Kevin Durant and James Harden, have banned the seven-time NBA All-Star from the team until he gets a Covid-19 vaccination and complies with New York City’s health and safety regulations.
Asked if Irving forced the Nets into this decision, Marks said Tuesday on a Zoom call, “Ultimately, yes. He has a choice to make and he made his choice. And my job here is to make what we deem is the best choices for the organization moving ahead and as a whole. They’re not always ones that are going to be met with open arms and a thumbs up. These are hard decisions.
“And just like I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Kyrie, either, to have to not be around his teammates.”
Marks said he was not able to inform Irving of the news in person because Tuesday is an “off day,” but said he had “multiple conversations” with Irving and his camp and the conversations were “very clear.”
Irving came to the Nets in free agency in the summer of 2019 with his close friend Durant with the aim of winning an NBA championship. The Nets now have a realistic shot of doing so, with or without Irving. Asked if Durant and Harden were apprised of the decision to ban Irving for now, Marks said:
“All our players were made aware that this was the trajectory that we were going down and this was going to happen. I will let Kevin, James, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, all the players address it in their own words at the right time. Our hope is that we can somewhat put this to rest and move on with the season and we have goals and aspirations to go and achieve out there and I don’t think we want to be focused entirely on an individual that is not with the team right now.”
The Nets faced a choice of allowing Irving to be a part-time player where he could miss as many as 45 games — 41 in Brooklyn, two at Madison Square Garden and two in Los Angeles and San Francisco — but practice and play in cities with no local vaccine rules….OR shut him down completely until he’s able to be a “full participant.” He risks losing about $400,000 per game he does not play.
They chose the latter, knowing that the former path would open them up to constant questions and criticism from the media, and create a potentially “disruptive” and “destructive” environment, as ESPN’s Doris Burke said.
“This is the fair time to do it and to do it right now and to move on,” Marks said.
Marks said Irving is still a member of the team but conceded that his camp probably didn’t like the decision.
“Will there be pushback from Kyrie and his camp?” Marks asked, reiterating a reporter’s question. “I’m sure that this is not a decision that they like, and Kyrie loves to play basketball, wants to be out there, wants to be participating with his teammates. But again, this is a choice that Kyrie had and he was well aware of that.”
He added: “I don’t know what’s going through his head as it pertains to this particular decision and the direction he wants to take it. All I can say is that he’s a member of this team but not with the group here. And we would welcome him back but that would have to be under a different set of circumstances.”
Asked directly if Irving had been vaccinated, Marks said, “If he was vaccinated we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think that’s probably pretty clear.”
Irving has not addressed the media since media day on Sept. 27 when he cited “privacy” in discussing his vaccination status. He then participated in team practices in San Diego before the team returned to Brooklyn. On Friday, it was reported that Irving could participate in practices at the HSS Training Center in Brooklyn because it was deemed a private facility, while Barclays Center is a public building. He attended an outdoor practice on Sunday but did not travel with the team to Philadelphia Monday for a preseason game with the 76ers.
“I am protected by God and so are my people,” he Tweeted Saturday. “We stand together.”
Irving is due to make about $35 million this season and has a player option for $36 million next year. Marks said before training camp he was “very confident” he would get Irving, Harden and Durant extended before training camp began. So far, only Durant has signed an extension for four years and $198 million through 2025-26.
Asked if the team is considering trading Irving, Marks said, “I don’t know that I want to address the hypotheticals of what may happen in the future. This is pretty raw, pretty fresh, we’ve got to let the dust settle.
“The hope is that we have Kyrie back. We would welcome him back with open arms but it would have to be under a different set of circumstances so we would have to wait and see how that transpires but in the meantime we need to focus on the 16 players that are going to be on this roster moving forward with us.
“So the focus needs to be with them and our goals have not changed, the goal is ultimately to be the last team standing and without a doubt losing a player of Kyrie’s caliber hurts from a talent perspective, no question. I’m not going to deny that but at the end of he day our focus, our coach’s focus, the organization’s focus, needs to be on those players that are going to be invovled here and are going to be participating fully.”