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Tsai ‘respects’ Kyrie Irving’s choice, but reminds him of goal; isn’t worried about James Harden deal

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Brooklyn Nets v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

In an interview with Brian Lewis, Joe Tsai said while he “respects” Kyrie Irving’s choice on being vaccinated, the Nets owner said that his superstar needs to keep his eye on the prize. And while he didn’t talk specifically about Kyrie Irving in a later interview with Alex Schiffer, the Nets owner revealed he’s been vaccinated four times, twice in Hong Kong with Sinovac, the Chinese vaccine, and twice in the U.S. with Pfizer.

“So Kyrie talks about it as a sort of personal choice issue, which I respect. But we all need to not forget that our goal,” said Tsai who visited Nets training camp at USD, a short trip from his homed. “What is our goal this year? What’s our purpose this year? It’s very, very clear: Win a championship. And the championship team needs to have everybody pulling the same direction.

“So I hope to see Kyrie play fully and win a championship together with everybody else, with all his teammates. That’s the best outcome for everybody.”

On Friday morning, Sean Marks reiterated Tsai’s stance in a clip from SiriusXM Sports season preview which airs Friday night.

“Our hope is that our roster we envisioned earlier this summer is all available for all the games and that’s our hope,” said the Nets GM. “And as it pertains to Kyrie, it’s a private matter that he’s going to deal with and he’ll address at the right time. But again, I think we’ve made our stance pretty clear. I know New York City has made their stance clear and it’s about us supporting our players and make sure we are all abiding by those protocols out there and hopefully achieve our ultimate goal.”

In the Lewis interview, Tsai gave no indication of how he would approach things if Irving remains unvaccinated. Under city regulations, endorsed by the NBA, Irving cannot play, practice or participate in team activities within city limits. The Nets return from Southern California next Sunday and presumably will schedule practice either Monday or Tuesday of that week. Irving is also increasingly in a small minority of NBA players. Adrian Wojnarowski reported that only five percent of the league’s roughly 600 players haven’t gotten at least one shot.

The interviews were the first time Tsai has spoken publicly about the issue which has taken on national and even international proportions after Irving declined to answer questions on his vaccination status at Media Day. Public figures as diverse as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, the prime minister of Spain, a U.S. senator from Texas, the mayor of New York and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith have all spoken about his stance, most of it negative, Shaq even offered advice to Tsai earlier Thursday. “Get his ass up outta here,” said the Hall of Famer on CBS Sports Radio. “Whoever owns the Brooklyn Nets, get him outta here”

Tsai, who bought first the Liberty then the Nets in 2019, spoke about the severity of the illness in personal terms in talking with Lewis ... terms that might connect with a young basketball player who has a history of support for the WNBA.

“Sure, so, this is a serious virus. It could be a deadly virus and it could also — if someone catches COVID — it could actually incapacitate them for a long period of time. We have one player, Asia Durr who is still suffering some issues, so we know how serious it is,” Tsai said. “We know everybody knows how serious it is, right? You don’t have to explain it to people. We also know that the vaccine is safe, and also extremely effective.”

Durr, 23, was the second overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft. In the spring of 2020, she came down with a severe case of COVID. She is a so-called COVID “long-hauler.” Her career is at best in jeopardy. In January when she told her story to Real Sports,

Tsai added that there is a larger community benefit, part of social responsibility in an apparent appeal to Irving’s sense of community.

“I’m a total believer in the fact that the vaccine actually protects you from getting sick, getting real sick. Now the other thing is, I also believe that taking the vaccine is also a social good. It’s just part of social responsibility, because you’re not only protecting yourself, but you’re protecting other people.

Tsai also reminded people of the role his holding company, BSE Global, has played in getting the larger population protected for the virus

“That’s my personal view, so that’s why we’re supporting vaccinations at Barclay Center. We advocate for getting vaccinated, because it truly will save lives, and it will truly protect other people. Don’t underestimate the social responsibility part of it. It’s not just about yourself, it’s about protecting the people around you. So that’s kind of my view of the vaccine.”

Indeed, Tsai detailed his personal experience with the vaccines in his interview with Schiffer and praised the science.

“I don’t know if I told you, but I’m vaccinated with two different kinds of vaccines. So I’ve had four doses. So when I was in Hong Kong I did the Sinovac, that’s a Chinese-manufactured vaccine. But when I came to the U.S. in July, the FDA hasn’t recognized the Sinovac, so I decided to take the Pfizer vaccine. So basically I got four shots in me now. And I’d certainly go for a booster shot if it were available and if I’m allowed to do that.

“And so I know it works. I feel much safer,” he added. “The science, all these studies and clinical trials and actual trials, because now we have hundreds of millions of people that have taken the vaccine and the fact is when you take the vaccine, even if you get infected, your hospitalization drops way down. You don’t get really sick from catching the virus. That’s a very important fact that everyone needs to understand.

Tsai touched on the contract extensions for the “Big Three” in the two interviews. In doing so, though, he raised the possibility that at least James Harden might decide to wait till next July — when he can get a bigger deal. Not a big issue, Tsai told Lewis although he added that the organization’s preference is to get a signature on the dotted line now. Sean Marks said in early August that he hoped to have the duo “signed, sealed and delivered” by training camp. That obviously has not happened.

“Yeah, whether or not it’s the season now or later, the way I look at it is he’s already said ‘I want to play and finish my career in Brooklyn.’ He’s actually said that. And our job is to make sure that he continues to feel that way,” Tsai told The Post. “Obviously if we win a championship and also have the chance to win multiple championships down the road, that’s going to be even more convincing, more compelling.

“The thing is, I just feel that I agree with him that Brooklyn is the best place to be, so there’s really no argument there. And as for the timing, I think we just respect his sense of timing and let things play out. Obviously, we are very committed to have him in Brooklyn for the long haul. So, we’ve expressed to him our desire to sign him to extend him as soon as possible.”

He spoke similarly to Schiffer about the Harden extension

“Well, I feel good that both James and Kyrie have said very clearly that they want to be in Brooklyn, they want to play with KD, they want to see this team develop and they want to win a championship. And these are all good things,” Tsai told Schiffer.

“So, for me, the priority is let’s win a championship. The extension is great, but each player, we treat them individually, they have their own time, they’re on their own clock and if we could sign them for an extension, like right now, that’s great. But I think right now the priority is, let’s make sure the team is healthy, everybody is ready for the season and let’s go win a championship.”

While there’s no deadline for Irving to sign an extension, on e is coming up for Harden, October 18, the day before the season opener. He would have to pick up next year’s $47.4 million player option and tack on another three years for $161.1 million that would kick in for the 2023-24 campaign. If, on the other hand, he waits till next summer, he’d be eligible for the biggest windfall in NBA history, $270 million over five years.

If Harden waits until after the season, he could re-sign in Brooklyn and shatter the all-time NBA record with a $270 million windfall over five years. Harden turned down a two-year, $103 million deal with the Rockets as part of his campaign to get traded to Brooklyn.

Tsai also told Schiffer that he thinks Brooklyn is now THE free agent destination in the NBA.

“I think today when you look at Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Nets, this is the place people want to come and play and try to win a championship,” he argued. “This is a huge night-and-day difference between now and five years ago when I first got involved with the Nets.”

Also in the interview with Schiffer, he discussed just how easy negotiations were with Kevin Durant.

“If I recall correctly, it happened in sort of multiple parts,” he told Schiffer. “Because I did get a call from Rich Kleiman, Kevin’s business partner, and he said, ‘Hey look, we want to be here long-term. This is kind of a five-year stretch.’ And I said, ‘That’s great. Let’s meet.’ So we met and had a discussion and after that, they signed the deal.”

Tsai spoke positively of the Nets roster and the NBA championship.

“I mean, look at this roster. We have a terrific team, terrific roster, I think Sean has done a terrific job in the offseason with the roster. I’m just really excited about the season,” he told Schiffer.

Tsai also endorsed Steve Nash to Schiffer, adding that it’s of no concern that Nash and he may have financial interests in competing teams in MLS and are partners in the Las Vegas pro lacrosse team.

“I don’t worry about it. First, Steve’s our coach. We’re totally thrilled to have him be the head coach of the Nets. I think he’s got a multi-year runway. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have him. I also got to know him as a person. So I would consider him a friend and he considers me a friend,” Tsai said. “That’s why I invited him into ownership of the Las Vegas lacrosse team. So whether or not he’s the coach of the Nets, I would have asked him anyway because he actually played lacrosse. He’s a multi-sport athlete. He’s by far the most diverse multi-sport athlete I’ve ever seen. From soccer to tennis, basketball and lacrosse.

“I enjoy seeing him, hanging out with him, it’s very natural.

Nash said Tuesday that he expected Joe and Clara Wu Tsai to spend time with the Nets players, coaches and staff at some point this week. In fact, it may have happened Thursday night. Was it an opportunity for negotiation on a number of subjects?