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NETS RELENT: Will permit Kyrie Irving to play road games ... but now a positive test complicates matters

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

The Nets have relented and will permit Kyrie Irving to play road games but on Saturday morning, there was a new report that the unvaccinated Irving had tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, further complicating the superstar’s return.

Irving is ineligible to play at Barclays Center (and Madison Square Garden) because he has refused to be vaccinated and New York City regulations ban the unvaccinated from indoor venues. In early October, ownership and management declined to let him play as a part-time player, citing possible distractions, and so he had to sit out.

That changed on Friday, according to reports from Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania.

In fact, Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson of Bally Sports later reported the process is underway...

NetsDaily was told Irving came to the HSS Training Center late Friday afternoon, keyed himself in and underwent testing. A positive test means that Irving will now require five days of consecutive negative tests before he can return to action. Kristian Winfield confirmed the ND report.

Should Irving decide he now wants to be vaccinated, he will have to wait until the end of his quarantine. (In the past, he would have had to wait 90 days.)

Sean Marks confirmed the reports from Woj and Shams, issuing a statement at 7 p.m.

“After discussions with our coaches, players and staff, the organization has decided to have Kyrie Irving re-join the team for games and practices in which he is eligible to participate. We arrived at this decision with the full support of our players and after careful consideration of our current circumstances, including players missing games due to injuries and health and safety protocols. We believe that the addition of Kyrie will not only make us a better team but allow us to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster. We look forward to Kyrie’s return to the lineup, as well as getting our entire roster back together on the court.”

Joe Tsai, the Nets owner, later told Brian Lewis that in making the decision, he was driven by winning.

“We’re trying to be practical. And I’ve always said I don’t want to make this a political issue. My only religion is to win games and win the championship. That’s where we are.

”So I think a lot of people that are either pro-vax or anti-vax people are mad at me for taking one stance or the other. But I have said from the very beginning I’m not taking this as a political thing,”

A Nets insider told NetsDaily that both Kevin Durant and James Harden — along with their agents — have been pushing for an Irving return as their minutes mount. The Nets are first in the East with a 21-8 record, the first start in franchise history.

The news of the Nets decision came as a shock. It was only three days ago that Steve Nash, reacting to a Shams report of “increasing optimism,” said “I know he’s working out and I know he’d love to be playing but I think the boundaries are still the same as they were before recent reports.”

However, in more recent days, Nash has repeatedly spoken on Kevin Durant’s durability saying his nightly 40-minute menu can’t be sustained, an indicator perhaps that the head coach was at least hoping for a Kyrie return, if not more.

Woj said on ESPN that the decision to bring Irving back evolved over the last week to 10 days as players went down and Durant’s and James Harden’s minutes soared.

The Woj and Shams reports came minutes after the Nets released their latest injury status report for Saturday’s game vs. the Magic which included news that Kevin Durant and Patty Mills will rest and that Nicolas Claxton is questionable.

Ironically, the Nets are among the hardest hit teams in the recent wave of COVID infections that has had more than 50 players returning either positive or inconclusive test results. So far, seven Nets have placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Woj reported that the Nets roster devastation was the major reason for the reversal.

The unfolding circumstances of Brooklyn’s season - including injuries, players lost to health and safety protocols and an inordinate minutes load on their superstar players led the team to this move, sources said.

So far, Irving has been unwilling to satisfy New York City mandates and become vaccinated to play home games, but the turbulence of the ongoing NBA season has caused the organization to reconsider their preseason decision to fully sideline Irving, sources said.

Irving will not be permitted to play in at least two NBA cities, New York and Toronto. Canada recently banned all unvaccinated visitors.

Nets owner Joe Tsai, general manager Sean Marks, coach Steve Nash and key players were fully supportive of the idea — and Irving has been eager to return to play in the team’s away games, sources said. Irving can start practicing at team facility.

While fans are expected to be generally happy with the decision, it will no doubt lead to heavy criticism of the organization in that they relented on what many consider a moral issue. Indeed, the decision will be championed by the anti-vaccine movement as a victory. Along with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’s also unvaccinated, Irving has become the face of the anti-vaccine movement in the United States.

On Opening Night at Barclays Center, hundreds of anti-vaccine demonstrators protest the Nets decision and the city’s mandates, carrying signs, “Free Kyrie” and “Stand with Kyrie” while chanting, among other things, “Heil Fauci.” Several demonstrators tried to breach the arena entrances, being blocked by security guards, causing a short lockdown as thousands of fans waited on line outside.

Numerous figures in the sports and political worlds have criticized Irving’s stance, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Stephen A. Smith, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Andy Slavitt, former Biden White House senior advisor for the COVID Response Team.

As Woj noted, the Nets’ next road game is December 23 in Portland, followed by a Christmas Day game at the Los Angeles Lakers and a December 27 game at the LA Clippers. That stretch is followed by three more home games. Under a city ruling in September, Irving his permitted to practice at the Nets training facility in Industry City.

Specifically, the Nets guard is currently ineligible for the Knicks games at Madison Square Garden on February 16 and April 6 as well as the Raptors game on March 1. Los Angeles and Philadelphia have instituted new guidelines on sporting venues, but it appears that like New York, unvaccinated players from opposing teams are exempt from those regulations.

The NBA playoffs which begin in mid-April could also be an issue assuming the regulations still stand by then.

Irving will also face limits while playing on the road. He will be able to dine with the team nor be in same room as other players. He must stand six feet apart in team meeting and his locker must be distanced from others. He must remain in his hotel room and the number of visitors including family to his will be monitored and limited. He will be prohibited from public venues like bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

Depending on when he returns, Irving will be eligible to play around 20 games for Brooklyn out of the remaining 54. Various reports have noted that Irving has stayed in shape since being banned by the Nets from play and practice.

Irving and/or those close to him have offered various reasons for his refusal to get vaccinated, suggesting that he and his family are protected by God, that he’s opposed to the vaccine mandates like New York’s and that he is concerned about the long-term side-effects of the vaccine which has been administered to hundreds of millions of people worldwide without widespread, significant issues .

In a NetsDaily interview with Joe Tsai at the end of October, Joe Tsai had said that he had “all the patience” in waiting for Irving and last month, his wife and co-owner, Clara Wu Tsai, told the YES Network that she was looking forward to his return. Neither suggested that they were demanding he be vaccinated.

The time of the Nets decision appears odd in that the city is faced with rising infection rates as a result of the Delta and Omicron variants. Indeed, Brooklyn has had both the highest infection rates and lowest vaccination rates in the city.

Irving’s time in Brooklyn has been fraught with injury and controversy. Two years ago, he played only 20 games due to a variety of health issues, including a fractured orbital bone in his face and shoulder displacement that required season-ending surgery.

Last season, one in which he joined the 50/40/90 club and averaged nearly 27 points a game, Irving missed seven games due to personal reasons he described as “a lot of family and personal stuff going on.” He lost more than $800,000 in salary for the unexcused absences and was also fined $50,000 by the NBA for violating the league’s COVID protocols when he hosted a birthday party for his father and sister.