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Kyrie Irving return uncertain and not uncomplicated

2021 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks

Kyrie Irving is in quarantine, on COVID health and safety protocols. Once he clears quarantine, he can play road games, but who knows when. He has to return at least two negative tests 24 hours apart before he can start the ramp-up to play. Word is that he’s in shape and excited about a return but the Nets haven’t seen him on the court yet.

Then, as one of the 10 to 15 NBA players who are unvaccinated, he will have to deal with regulations that will keep him at a distance from teammates and other Nets coaches and staffers.

Is there a date that the Nets think he will be ready? That’s hard to say. They’re not talking about it and returning those two negative tests could take some time. Nothing is certain, including his health as an unvaccinated individual in a resurgent pandemic.

Here’s what Steve Nash said about that possibility after learning of Irving’s COVID status.

“[Potential health complications are] something to consider,” Steve Nash said on Saturday. “Having said that, he’s a young man in great health. I think he’s ... the odds of him having something catastrophic happen are small. But yeah, this virus concerns me in every corner and aspect of its short life so far. That’s a concern, but it’s also a concern for the vaccinated. So it’s just something we’re having to live with in our world these days.”

And here’s what Sean Marks said about having an unvaccinated player at Barclays Center and HSS Training Center.

“We discussed everything here, and I think there’s also a risk for Kyrie when a guy comes in and if they’re not vaccinated,” Marks said. “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 and so forth. But we’re all well aware of the status and his status moving forward and how we’ll navigate this as best we can.”

In other words, we are in virgin territory.

Under the latest CDC guidance, Irving can get vaccinated once out of quarantine, but there’s no indication he will. There was a report that he might be willing take a plant-based vaccine that’s in development, but 1) the vaccine is a traditional vaccine and traditional vaccines aren’t doing well vs. the omicron variant and 2) it’s unlikely to be available for several months ... at least.

The new mayor, Eric Adams, could in theory lighten the load and uncertainty by carving out an exception for Irving that would let him play home games as well as road ones. That seems like a difficult choice for a new mayor who’s been more pro-mandate than his predecessor Bill de Blasio. Moreover, how would his police, fire and sanitation unions react? They all opposed mandates. Of course, we’ve been surprised before ... like last week.

What will his connection with the team be like on return? Here’s how Tim Bontemps of ESPN described the restrictions Irving and other unvaccinated players face back in September.

Teams have also been instructed to prevent having their seating arrangements for fully unvaccinated players from sitting together.

Unvaccinated players are required to remain at their residence during home games and at the team hotel for road contests. The only exceptions are for team and essential activities, such as buying groceries or taking their children to school. They are not allowed to go to any restaurants, bars, clubs, entertainment venues or large indoor gatherings and can only have in-person interactions with non-family members with a “limited number of close personal guests” who have to be tested beforehand.

Of course, teams that employ other unvaccinated players seem to be dealing with those restrictions ... and enforcement has to be difficult for the league.

As Marks said, Irving does have the “full support” of his teammates and Joe Tsai who made the ultimate decision to bring him back, told Brian Lewis, “My only religion is to win games and win the championship. That’s where we are.”

For many, from fans to the media, the issue is larger than that, bigger than basketball. Kristian Winfield criticized the Nets Monday, joining a number of others.

At the end of the day, it comes down to responsibility. Make no mistake: The Nets have absolutely acquiesced to more selfish forces by backpedaling on their initial decision. By allowing Irving to return, unvaccinated, and on a part-time basis, they are eroding the continuity they sought and the increased safety they earned. But the fact that they were in a position to have to make such a decision is a reflection of every other party along the way passing the buck until someone had to make a hard choice. The NBA, New York State, the United States government, and not least of all, Irving himself.

Overall, though, the Nets have been surprised by the low level of criticism. They expected more. Tuesday afternoon, however, Stephen A. Smith let loose on them and Irving...

All that said, it’s unlikely that Nets fans will greet Irving’s return with anything other than open arms and loud cheers. He’s that good and they’re that determined to see a parade through the streets of Brooklyn, the borough’s first championship since 1955 and the city’s first pro basketball title since 1976.

That assumes things will go right from now till when he steps on the court at Barclays Center.