Nets star point guard Kyrie Irving is still away from the team after owner Joe Tsai and GM Sean Marks decided that Irving will not play or practice until he can be a full participant.
Irving is not vaccinated, and per New York City COVID-19 mandates, he is not allowed to play home games in Brooklyn. Tsai stands by that decision, and talked about if he thinks Irving will play again in an interview with ESPN.
“I don’t know,” Tsai said. “Either he has to be vaccinated in order to come back if the New York mandate is still in place. And don’t ask me when they may or may not change the New York mandate. Again, if you ask the people that are making decisions at the city level, they are going to say we are going to rely on science, rely on what the health department tells us [in order to proceed].”
Tsai went on to say that he and Irving have not spoken since the team decision on Oct. 12.
“Last time [I] talked to him was when we made the decision that he was not going to be playing until something changes,” Tsai said. “We haven’t communicated since then.”
He then said that he respects Irving’s beliefs, but reiterated the team decision to play without him.
“Obviously Kyrie has his own belief so I respect that. But we have to make a team decision. This is not a decision about him. This is a decision about where we go as a team. And it is just not tenable for us to have a team with a player that comes in and out, no home games, only away games. What do you do in practice then?
“This week we have a whole stretch of six home games, so we won’t have Kyrie. So it became pretty clear to us. We are very much aligned among myself, Sean [Marks], coaching staff that this has to be [the decision], especially since we’re a team with pretty lofty aspirations. We don’t see any other way of running this team.”
There were recently protestors outside of the Barclays Center before the Nets first home game showing support for Irving.
“I just think that it’s cavalier for people to hijack something like this when life and death is at stake,” Tsai said. “People shouldn’t make it into a political issue. So when you see protestors, they’re definitely making a political statement. These guys are not basketball fans. They could care less whether someone is on the court playing or not.
“They’re hijacking the issue, but it’s dangerous because we have a life and death situation. The fact is, if you are not vaccinated and you catch COVID, you have a much higher probability of getting very, very sick and end up in the ICU and possibly die. That’s the consequence.”
Another layer to Irving’s situation is his potential contract extension with the Nets. He has a player option for the 2022-23 season at $36.5 million, and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent the following summer. Irving is eligible to sign a four-year, $187 million extension, but the Nets have not offered the extension yet. Tsai still hopes for Irving to be a part of the franchise in the future.
“I hope that Kyrie can be part of the team, part of Brooklyn long term,” Tsai said. “But I am not going to get into the extension thing. I think we have an immediate question of whether he can play this season. and I hope he gets vaccinated as soon as possible.”