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UPDATE: Nets in waiting game with Kyrie Irving but team options are limited

Friday afternoon’s decision by New York City permitting Kyrie Irving to practice was the latest news in the Irving situation. So where do we stand now?

NBA: Player Headshots 2021 Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

While some fans and pundits speculate about what the Nets could do with Kyrie Irving — trade him for Ben Simmons is often mentioned — the Brooklyn brain trust is trying patience while Irving decides whether to get a shot or not.

Irving nor the Nets have said anything official about his vaccination status but his unavailability for games, team activities and until Friday, practices, confirm he’s among the unvaccinated, one of a smaller and smaller minority of NBA players who haven’t yet been jabbed.

As ESPN reported Friday...

The Nets, according to sources, remain unclear on Irving’s intentions for getting vaccinated, and the organization has made no decision, as of Thursday, on whether it will accommodate him as a part-time player this season.

But truth be told, the Nets have little choice to be anything other than patient. They want him back on the court. They see him as a key piece in their drive for a championship. There have been no trade talks, at least not yet. Indeed, their options fit in a narrow range for a number of reasons:

  • He has limited trade value. Despite his greatness on court — and his generosity off it — Irving is seen by many as damaged goods. Large segments of fan bases ultimately sour on him. His long list of quirky positions on flat earth and the COVID vaccine make him controversial and his unexcused absences are fresh in GMs’ minds. As more and more restrictions are placed on unvaccinated players by the league and local jurisdictions, there will be fewer and fewer comfortable landing spots. Moreover, there’s no indication he wants to leave.
  • He has become the darling of some of the worst elements in American culture, as Rolling Stone has reported. That could make him even more unpopular. He may not have said he’s anti-vaccine — or smartly, anything else about his situation — but his hesitancy has won him fans one the wrong side of the national debate ... and there’s still the glaring issue of whether he agrees with them ... as Rolling Stone has also suggested.
  • His contract situation doesn’t help Sean Marks etc. in any trade negotiation that might evolve, as The Athletic noted in a roundtable this week. If the Nets get his signature on an extension, they can’t trade him for six months, meaning through April. What happens if he or the team decide he shouldn’t play? And if he doesn’t sign an extension, he can become an unrestricted free agent in July by declining his $36.9 million player option for 2022-23. How attractive is that for any team that would be required to give up huge assets for him?
  • And there is the recurring, if unconfirmed, rumor that he could retire if things get uglier, if he’s traded. Nick Wright’s report that he’s told the Nets that he might abandon the game was easily dismissed but Marc Stein wrote Friday that “there is a belief in some corners of the league that Irving would retire, or at least deeply ponder it, if Brooklyn suddenly traded him.”

On the other side of the coin, the Nets want to keep him around, period. They saw what happened in the Bucks series when he went down with a severely sprained ankle. They also don’t want to upset a roster that’s built to win it all. There’s NO indication that his teammates have grown tired of him either. They have repeatedly and publicly supported him and his right to privacy. After the city corporation counsel ruling Friday that he can practice at HSS Training Center, Kevin Durant seemingly spoke for the team.

“Yeah, at least he can practice. But we want him here for the whole thing,” Durant said. “We want him here for games, home games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of that. Hopefully, we figure this thing out.”

On Thursday, James Harden noted that Irving is one reason he forced his way out of Houston.

“We’ll keep treading water. Every single day we focus on things that we can control, things we can get better at. ... Whatever happens, happens. I want him to be on the team, of course. ... He’s one of the reasons why I came here.”

His coach saw the city’s decision in a positive way, but also raised the possibility that it won’t be “figured out” any time soon ... or ever.

“We have him around the team for a larger period of our season, and we’ll see what happens,” said Nash, who’s been careful in discussing Irving since the controversy began. “This rule just came in. Is another one coming? Is he going to be allowed to play at home at some point? Not going to be able to practice in our facility at some point? We’re just kind of following the latest.

“We’re in a position where the pandemic is creating all these different, new scenarios as well. I really don’t know what to say other than that it’s positive that he can now rejoin his teammates in our practice center and train and gives us more touch points with him, and we’ll go from there.”

What’s next? On Saturday morning, Irving offered a tweet that could be interpreted that he believes he’s already “protected” from the virus.

Will we hear from Irving Saturday at the Practice in the Park, which traditionally has been the organization’s feel-good moment prior to the start of the season? He’s permitted to be there, but will he show? He and his godfather, Rod Strickland, have a basketball camp in the Bronx that starts, conveniently or inconveniently, at the same time.

Patience, of course, is a virtue. For the Nets though it may also be a necessity. At some point, unless he gets vaccinated — and he still could — decisions will have to be made. Patience has been the mark of Sean Marks and Joe Tsai in building what could very well be one of the great teams in league history. They are that stacked. How much more will be required is up to Irving.