The Brooklyn Nets have made a major decision regarding Kyrie Irving's status for the 2021-22 NBA season. On Tuesday, the team announced that Irving won't be allowed to serve as a part-time player, and thus won't be permitted to practice with the team or play in road games until he is a "full participant" and eligible to play in home games.
Nets general manager Sean Marks released the following statement regarding the situation:
Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant. Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.
It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice. Our championship goals for the season have not changed, and to achieve these goals each member of our organization must pull in the same direction. We are excited for the start of the season and look forward to a successful campaign that will make the borough of Brooklyn proud.
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Following the announcement, Marks held a press conference where he explicitly expressed that the All-Star point guard isn't vaccinated, saying "If he was vaccinated, we wouldn't be having this discussion." Marks also reiterated that Irving will lose money for every home game he's unable to play in, according to an agreement made by the league and the union.
When asked how the Nets arrived at the decision to bar Irving from participating in practices and away games, Marks said he and team owner Joe Tsai were the final decision makers.
"This process, as I think all you guys are pretty well aware of, has been going on for a while now and we've been bringing all the information to a head here," Marks said. "And I think this is a decision that ultimately Joe Tsai and myself made. We, as always involve a lot of people in this, but this decision came down to the two of us and it's what's best for the organization at this point in time."
Given New York's COVID-19 regulations, Irving isn't permitted to play in games in Brooklyn until he's vaccinated. Although he did receive permission to practice with the Nets in New York, the Nets clearly aren't interested in having him available for just half of the season's games, or the distraction that would inevitably stem from such a situation, something that Marks echoed during his press conference.
"I think we all know what our objective is this year and how a decision like this maybe affects that ultimate objective," Marks said. "So they're never easy decisions, but, end of the day, I think we're looking at putting a group of people out there that are going to be able to participate fully. And that's what this comes down to, and we're not looking for partners that are going to be half-time.
"I don't think that would be fair, not only on the team and staff and ownership and fans, but, to be quite frank, not fair on Kyrie either. When you're putting somebody out there that potentially can't get the right ramp-ups and right build-ups and so forth, and look as good as he or the team should under a different set of circumstances, that's why this decision was ultimately made."
The fact that the Nets want Irving to be 100 percent available to the organization and his teammates is no secret. Nets star forward Kevin Durant shared that sentiment last week.
"We want him here for the whole thing," Durant said of Irving. "We want him here for games, home games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of it, so hopefully we figure this thing out."
Marks said that all players were aware that these conversations were going on regarding Irving's status with the team entering the season, so it likely came as no surprise to fellow superstars Durant and James Harden that the front office came to this decision.
In regards to Irving's longer-term future with the franchise, Marks didn't want to talk about the possibility of trading the seven-time All-Star, as the Nets still hope that Irving will be able to rejoin the team at some point during the season.
When asked if the league was consulted about this decision, or if the Nets expect any push back from the Player's Association, Marks left it pretty open-ended.
"All parties that needed to be consulted on this were," Marks said. "Will there be pushback from Kyrie and his camp? You know, I'm sure 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. Again, we've had multiple conversations about this. I think the conversations were good. They were very clear and clearly outlined and this is where we stand right now today."
The ball is now literally in Irving's court. The Nets open the regular season on the road against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 19, so he still technically has time to get back with the team and not be forced to miss much game action. The question everyone across the league's landscape is now asking is if, and when, he will.