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Shams: Nets hope for Kyrie Irving return dims as mandates likely to remain in place

Wagner v Seton Hall Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Appearing on the Pat McFee Show Thursday, Shams Charania gave Nets fans little hope of a Kyrie Irving return to Brooklyn, saying of the absent superstar, “Kyrie Irving is nowhere closer to getting the vaccine & he’s not gonna play basketball unless he gets traded.”

Shams also noted that “there haven’t been many offers as of yet” for Irving from other teams.

Both Charania and Ian Begley reported Friday that the Nets have been taking calls on Irving but neither indicated if the Nets were making them as well. Adrian Wojnarowski said two weeks ago that the Nets were indeed in passive mode.

Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated — saying he’s opposed to vaccine mandates, including the city’s — was not the only news Thursday that could effect a return by the 29-year-old. New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio announced that health authorities have found five cases of the apparently more transmissible Omicron variant in the state with four cases in the city and one on Long Island in Suffolk County.

Not long before that announcement, the city announced that they are expanding, not limiting the mandate policies that are keeping Irving our of games played in New York. Going forward, New York City will require employees at yeshivas, Catholic schools and other private schools to be vaccinated against the coronavirus,

Although that mandate doesn’t directly effect the Nets, the expansion — plus the Omicron news — indicates that the city is not moving away from mandates in general, as was hoped. Nets fans and no doubt the organization were hoping that if the mandate was lifted or loosened, Irving could play. In general, the city’s incoming mayor, Eric Adams, is more pro mandate than deBlasio.

Shams noted that he had spoken to city officials (before the announcements) and that they had told him it was unlikely that the mandate would lift as infections climb in the city.

“There had been some hope that the incoming mayor, Eric Adams, come in and drop the mandate,” Shams told McAfee. “That probably sits back in the mind of Kyrie Irving and the Nets. You know, there’s got to be some level of hope, but at the end of the day, I’ve talked with City Hall officials in New York City. I’ve gotten calls from people in New York City, in City Hall, in the Mayor’s Office and they’ve told me given the rates of cases that are climbing, and given where we’re at in the city, there’s not really an urgency to lift the mandate. There’s no plan to lift the mandate.”

Shams also didn’t seem to hold out hope for any change in the Nets stance that if Irving can’t play in New York, he’s not playing on the road either.

“So if that’s the case, for Kyrie Irving ... is nowhere closer to getting the vaccine. So if he doesn’t get the vaccine, at the end of the day he’s not going to play basketball because unless he’s traded. Unless the Nets come out, you know, and say, fine, ‘we’re going to let you play road games, let you practice at home. we’re changing our stance, we’re going to let you come back, or unless Kyrie Irving decides to go an get the shot. there’s not really an end in sight here.”

Shams added that the Nets are listening to offers but the most speculated trade for Irving — to Philly for Ben Simmons — is not likely, that the 76ers have shown no interest in taking on Irving. In general, he added, “there haven’t been many offers as of yet.”

The semi-official start date for trade season is less than two weeks away. More than 150 players signed in the off-season are eligible to be moved for the first time on December 15. It’s rare that there are big complicated trades prior to then.

Ian Begley of SNY similarly reported that there have been calls but apparently no discussions of note.

To that end, it’s worth noting that, as of late last month, Brooklyn remained open to talking trades involving Irving, per SNY sources. ESPN reported in late October that the Nets were taking calls on potential Irving trades, but not making them. In the weeks following that report, several teams said Brooklyn has continued to take that approach with the All-Star guard.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Bally Sports’ Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson, Kerry Kittles said he doesn’t believe the Nets can win the whole thing without Irving. Kittles, who’s started filling in as a studio analyst with YES, says in today’s NBA, it takes three superstars not two to be standing with the Larry O’Brien trophy.

“No. They need Kyrie. They definitely need Kyrie. I just think that it puts too much pressure on those two guys,” said the former Nets sharpshooter. “I think in this era nowadays, you need three stars. You definitely need three high caliber players that can control the game with the ball in their hands. We saw what happened last year with the injuries across the League; the game is so fast now, you know? Injuries are always going to play a role in today’s game unfortunately and Kyrie definitely has to come back to help this team get to the championship and have a chance of winning it.

“Without him, if they can make the Eastern Conference Finals, that would be a great season. I don’t care what happens in the regular season. They definitely need Kyrie in the postseason.”

The NBA trade deadline is a long way away, February 10. Somewhere along the line, if Irving remains unvaccinated, Sean Marks and Joe Tsai will have to decide — no doubt in consultation with Kevin Durant, James Harris and Joe Harris — what to do. It seems unlikely that things won’t be resolved, one way or another, by then.