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Sean Marks and Steve Nash on Kyrie Irving return: ‘Decision is what’s best for the team right now’

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Prior to Saturday’s game against the Magic — and in wake of Kyrie Irving's return on a part-time basis and a long list of players added to the league’s health and safety protocols, Sean Marks spoke to the media to address the decision ... and the current state of the team.

The Nets General Manager said a change in the NBA “environment change” along with the players’ heavy workloads sparked the decision on Irving.

“The overall environment has changed, as we all know. Drastically it has changed; not only for the Nets. It’s changed from our staff perspective, our players perspective, it changed from what’s happening outside of Barclays,” said Marks on his and Joe Tsai’s reasoning.

“COVID has done a number on the team and our society in general. Managing our overall player load; that’s something we got to be aware of throughout the course of the season. We have seen the large minutes our guys have had to endure, play and we got to look at what’s best for the team over the course of the season.

“What hasn’t changed is our team, our staff, our front office, and coaches and players' ability to collaborate and evolve with changing circumstances. That’s exactly what we’re dealing with here.”

Steve Nash gave his own interesting perspective on the decision to bring back Irving, noting that the Nets held Irving out in the first place because of continuity issues, and now with COVID-19 ravaging the team, the Nets face... continuity issues.

“I’m excited to have Kyrie back. Obviously, he’s an incredible player and no matter what capacity we incorporate him, he’s just a positive for our group,” said Nash. “We first took the decision not to have him with us for continuity at the onset of a season and, frankly, continuity has been thrown out the window with COVID and injuries and whatnot.”

Nash also echoed Marks’ statement that reintegrating Irving eases the load on Brooklyn’s players.

“I think it’s important for us to use all the resources we have to navigate the season, and we’re putting an extra strain on a lot of our guys so he can help us, one, there,” said Nash. “And two, with his talent it’s an unused resource for us that we can lean on to help us navigate the season and patch this thing together as we continue to face different adversities.”

Marks traced things back to the initial decision made prior to the season, separating Irving from the team due to his vaccination status. Now with Irving back in the fold — if in protocols after a reported positive COVID test, Marks said it's a decision that’s best for the team.

“Several months ago, we made a decision that was based around what was best for the team, and what was best for the team at that point was continuity. I think we all see continuity right now over the course of the last week and whatever the future looks like is maybe out of the window for a while,” Marks said. “We got to navigate that as best we can. Something we always strived to do is make the best decisions for what’s best for the team. That’s been our principle and the decision is what’s best for the team right now.”

Unlike the previous decision, Marks said all the players were spoken to about Irving returning part-time and added everyone was in agreeance with the latest decision.

“The collaboration piece is really important for us as an organization. In this one, one-hundred percent we talked to all of our players about this,” said the Nets General Manager. “We never make a decision without the players being aware of what’s coming down the pipeline. Everyone was on board with the decision being made and they understand the circumstances that they were facing here.”

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

There are several safety concerns that come with the decision, as both Marks and Nash noted. The league has been hit hard by COVID-19 and when the Nets GM was asked about the concern, he clarified that it’s a risk for not only the team but Irving himself.

“We discussed everything here. There is also a risk for Kyrie. When a guy comes in and if they are not vaccinated,” said Marks on the safety issue of bringing in Irving (unvaccinated) into the fold. “I don’t want to get into those types of discussions but that’s a risk for him coming into this environment, not just the team. We’re all aware of his status and moving forward, how we’ll navigate this as best we can.”

While Nash was in unison with Marks about Irving’s vaccination status being a risk, he did note that Kyrie Irving is a “young man” with “great health.” That said, Nash said the Nets will take precautions to minimize the risks to others.

“It’s something to consider and having said that, he’s, a young man and great health,” said Nash. “The odds of him having something difficult or catastrophic happen or are small. But yeah, I can say this virus concerns me in every corner and aspect of its short life so far. So that’s a concern, but it’s also a concern for the vaccinated.

“So it’s just something that we’re having to live with in our world these days. And so we’ll proceed and do the best we can to protect and care for everyone. But this is what it is, we can take as many precautions as we can, and we should, but we’re not going to be able to change it all every day. It’s just a part of how we’re gonna have to deal with life moving forward.”

Marks and the Nets haven’t spoken to Irving about his vaccination status and whether the guard is rethinking his refusal to get vaccinated. Those conversations will occur when Irving rejoins the team.

“I have not talked to Kyrie about vaccination status. I don’t think that’s appropriate right now,” Marks said. “The times I’ve gone to see him, these are about forming bonds, forming friendships and having conversations about family and sometimes basketball.

“When he gets back here, I’m sure he’ll have conversations whether it’s with myself, Steve or the players and so forth, but I want to get him back in the fold and we’ll navigate those conversations then.”

Wagner v Seton Hall Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

If Irving has indeed returned a positive test, he won’t be able to get vaccinated for two months. CDC regulations demand that 60 days pass before an unvaccinated person with COVID can get the shot.

Nash was also questioned whether upcoming changes to New York City’s COVID-19 mandate would apply to Irving’s ability to practice at the HSS Training Center. The mandate, which goes into effect December 27, will require proof of vaccination for those who perform in-person work or interact with the public. Nash said that he “shouldn’t speak on that until I understand it.”

In addition to Irving being placed in the league’s protocols, the Nets GM made it clear the guard will need to undergo a ramp-up before returning to the court. Marks added he hasn’t seen Irving on the court and doesn’t know his physical shape. However, the GM noted the silver lining is an opportunity for the guard to build continuity with his teammates.

“The good thing is Kyrie knows our guys and he’s been around. In order for him to be able to practice with us and get back in the swing of things, there’s obviously going to be a ramp-up,” Marks said. “We have not seen him on the court so I couldn’t tell you what physical shape he looks like. I assume he looks pretty decent, but until we’ve seen him and seen him around our guys, this gives him an opportunity to be around him and to continue the collaboration and to continue working on their team chemistry, even though it’s going to be in practice. There’s a lot of things pending on the status for him.”

Although Marks said the team will further evaluate Irving’s part-time status down the line and whether he’ll remain with a fully healthy group, the GM stated the theme of the decision is to give his players the best chance of winning.

“Our objective here is to win. Our objective from an organization, from a team, from the GM, from the coach, from the players, everyone knows why they’re here. It is to win basketball games,” Marks said. “At the end of the day, we’re sitting here faced with a roster that has been decimated over the course of the last several days and I’m forced to make decisions. I don’t make those decisions by myself. We collaborate but this is the best decision for this team at this juncture right now with what we’re dealing with.”

The Nets GM did not address whether the Nets’ guard tested positive on his first COVID tests or whether the team’s medical personnel had been consulted on the decision.