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Shams: Nets have ‘renewed optimism’ re Kyrie Irving return

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Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In his weekly “Inside Pass,” Shams Charania reports that there is “renewed optimism” that Kyrie Irving may still return this season, but is unclear whether that optimism stems from a belief that Irving will get the COVID vaccine or the Nets will change their policy on him playing and practicing on the road.

Here’s the basic readout...

There is renewed optimism around Irving returning to the Nets this season, sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Athletic.

It remains unclear whether Irving’s potential return this season would come via vaccination to meet New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement or by Brooklyn opening the door for him to play road games and practice at home, but sources have indicated a renewed belief that Irving could play this season after all. Nets players and coaches want to have Irving rejoin the team as soon as possible. In recent weeks, Irving and Kevin Durant, his co-star and close friend, have had increased communication about his fit on the team, breaking down the games, and about life in general, sources added. There appears to be an increased level of enthusiasm between the two superstars.

It should be noted that on at least one other occasion that the Nets were optimistic that Irving would get the shot, but he apparently changed his mind. The Nets initially discussed having him play only road games but Sean Marks and Joe Tsai ultimately decided it would be too much of a distraction and barred him from both practicing and playing altogether.

If the Nets did decide to let him play road games, he still wouldn’t be eligible to play vs. the Knicks, Raptors and as of January 3, Philadelphia. Canada recently required all travelers north of the border to be fully vaccinated and New York regulations cover Madison Square Garden as well as Barclays Center. On Monday, Philadelphia added sporting events to its list of indoor venues where vaccination will be required. Overall, as Charania’s colleague Alex Schiffer notes, that would limit Irving to 20 games over the rest of this season.

Shams also discussed the remote possibility of the city changing its mandate.

There had been serious doubts about Irving’s playing status this season, barring New York City mayor-elect Eric Adams changing the COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Multiple City Hall officials, both current and incoming, have told The Athletic there are no plans to lift the requirement, which currently requires residents to have at least one vaccine shot to enter indoor gyms such as Barclays Center.

He noted as well that the city, faced with rising infection rates and the Omicron variant, is more likely to strengthen its mandate rather than loosen it. New rules will also mean that Irving will have to be fully vaccinated rather than just have one jab.

New York City will implement an expanded vaccine mandate for all private sector individuals on Dec. 27, at which point Irving would need to receive two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna shots to be eligible to play at home or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson dose. The process of being fully vaccinated with the two-dose shot could take up to one month. The single-dose vaccine has full vaccination status after two weeks.

The Athletic reporter also reported that the Nets have taken calls on possiible trades but not moved on them.

If no resolution occurs for Irving to rejoin the team by the Feb. 10 trade deadline, the Nets could be faced with a decision to make on potential offers they continue to receive. Several teams have placed calls into the Nets since Oct. 12, but Brooklyn has not engaged.

Meanwhile, the Nets continue to plan on a season without Irving.

“We just focus on our group and getting better every single day and if we get the gift of (Irving’s) return, we’ll be ecstatic but we can’t count on it,” Steve Nash said last week. “We can’t wait for him. We have to get to work and get better.”

Irving has been more active on Instagram in recent days, posting images of his new clothing line and supporting women’s basketball with a visit to Sierra Canyon High School’s nationally ranked team in LA. He’s also attended two Seton Hall men’s basketball games at Prudential Center in Newark. He has not posted about the Nets or the NBA this season.