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EXCLUSIVE: Behind the scenes of Kyrie Irving’s return

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Brooklyn Nets Practice Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets’ decision to reintegrate star guard Kyrie Irving moved hastily — and the fallout was almost just as immediate.

On Friday, the Nets announced through their PR account that Kyrie Irving would be joining his teammates “part-time,” ineligible to participate in Brooklyn’s home games because of the New York City COVID-19 mandate. Then, on Saturday, news broke that Kyrie Irving had become the latest Net to enter health and safety protocols, joining his co-stars Kevin Durant and James Harden. Sources confirmed to NetsDaily that Irving’s placement in the protocols was due to a positive COVID test.

On the outside looking in, things seemed to escalate quickly in just 12 hours. In reality, the seeds of Brooklyn’s decision were evident if we had just looked a little closer.

The plan to bring back Kyrie Irving was put into motion as early as last week, sources tell me and NetsDaily. Setting the stage, the Nets made the decision on October 12 to ban Kyrie Irving from team activities until he was “eligible to be a full participant,” either by getting the COVID-19 vaccine... or until the New York City mandate changed. For the first two months of the season, the Nets did not waiver from that decision. That all changed after a mid-December meeting.

With Kevin Durant and James Harden among the league leaders in minutes per game and shouldering a heavy load, an agent of at least one of them met with GM Sean Marks, according to an insider.

The goal of that meeting was reportedly simple; It was time for Marks and Nets owner Joe Tsai to re-think the stance of disallowing Kyrie Irving from team activities including road games. Ideally, even as a part-time player, Irving could help preserve Durant and Harden for the playoffs, the argument went.

Those discussions were somewhat contentious, added a source. Some within the Nets organization believed Marks left the meeting feeling as if his hand had been forced, he said. Although Durant has signed an extension, Harden (and Irving) have player options in the summer.

A Nets spokesman, however, firmly denies any such meeting took place.

Then, shortly thereafter, news broke via Shams Charania that there was “sudden optimism” within the Nets organization that Kyrie Irving’s return could be on the horizon.

That brings us to Friday, December 17th, when at around 5:30 p.m ET, Kyrie Irving keyed in to the Nets’ practice facility. There, he would take his required COVID-19 test and begin his re-acclimation into team activities. But by that point, news of Irving’s imminent return had already broken via Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski at 5:00 p.m.

And at 5:06 PM

Irving’s return had been announced — unofficially through Twitter — before the Nets could even get a look at his COVID-19 testing results. His return wasn’t the only thing that wasn’t imminent; a disaster was awaiting the Nets as well.

That brings us to Saturday morning at around 9:30 AM EST when Nets’ officials received the news they had been fearing. Kyrie Irving would soon be placed in health and safety protocols.

The fire had been started, and Nets officials hoped to quell the blazing timber for as long as possible. That optimism didn’t last long; within three hours, the world learned of the results of Irving’s COVID-19 test.

Marks is set to speak with reporters on Saturday at 5:30 PM EST. Soon, we’ll learn more about Brooklyn’s decision to bring an unvaccinated Kyrie Irving into the fold — and what Brooklyn’s plans are next.