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What’s next? Nets sink to East’s bottom as fans, media wonder about Kyrie Irving’s future

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by David L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets did not practice Sunday. Their next game is Monday night, the second game in the Pacers mini-series. That’s when the routine begins again with the media back seeking answers to the latest questions about a disappointing and again disruptive season. After Saturday night’s loss, the Brooklyn Nets are 1-5, tied for last in the East with the rebuilding Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons.

Of course, it’s worse than that. Kyrie Irving, a high-profile face of the franchise, is at the center of controversy ... again. His promotion Thursday afternoon of Hebrews to Negroes, a four-year-old antisemitic video and a seven-year-old book on which the video is based, may have finally and fatally frayed his connection with the franchise. Or not.

The team and the league issued general statements condemning promotion of “any form of hate speech” and Joe Tsai went further naming Irving and suggesting the two speak on the issue because “this is bigger than basketball.”

Then, in an extraordinary post-game Saturday night, Irving defended his position, declined to remove the offending tweet and dismissed reporters’ questions. Sunday, he tweeted this, a continuance of his main point Saturday, that his tweet is related to his research on his African roots...

On Sunday night, Irving deleted the social media posts although copies of it had been saved and are widely available on the Internet.

So, what’s next?

The first question is whether there’s any hope for this all to be resolved in a meeting between Tsai and Irving, as Kevin Durant’s trade request was resolved during a meeting between Tsai and KD back in late August. Is that too much to ask, considering Irving’s history and Tsai’s failure to convince Irving to get vaccinated last season? So if it doesn’t work, what happens?

The Nets could return to the trade market they reportedly visited with Irving back in July and August. The big speculation then was Irving would be traded for Russell Westbrook and maybe one, maybe two, first rounders. Westbrook has played poorly so far this season and with the Lakers the only NBA team still winless, his trade value, like Irving’s has diminished. (If the Nets do engage in trade talks with L.A., talks might come down to Sean Marks and Rob Pelinka arguing over whose asset is more distressed.)

But that might not be realistic. Early season trades don’t happen often, particularly two stars of that magnitude. Ownership and management usually like to give their teams 20 to 25 games before they decide on big moves. Also, as much as a third of the players in the NBA, those signed or resigned this summer, aren’t available to be included in complicated trade scenarios until after December 15, which is 30 games in.

The Nets could also suspend Irving, but that would assuredly be met by a fulsome appeal from the NBPA, the players’ union. Irving is still a vice-president of the union and the NBPA has a history of defending players’ right to speak out. In theory, the Nets could also not suspend him, but sit him. That can’t be appealed.

Would the Nets, exhausted by one controversy after another, simply waive Irving? Brooklyn would have to pay him his salary, $35.9 million, through the end of his contract on June 30. He would become an unrestricted free agent. Determining whether the Nets would go that route would be a top priority for potential suitors. That seems highly unlikely, too.

Brian Lewis, writing Sunday night before the tweet was deleted, cited sources as saying none of that is likely to happen. Of the tweet, he wrote:

It’s touched off the latest culture war, millions of his fans agreeing he’d done nothing wrong with many others wanting him fined, suspended, traded or even waived. All indications are the latter group will be 0-for-4.

And perhaps a rapprochement between the team and Irving has already begun with the removal of the tweet.

Still, Mike Vaccaro, Lewis colleague at the Post, wrote Sunday night that the Nets need to lay down the law finally.

The Nets have enabled and empowered Kyrie Irving long enough. Now Irving has gone too far, and it’s on the Nets to make this right. It’s on the Nets to tell Irving that posting a link to a clearly anti-Semitic movie is one bridge too far, no matter how much he claims, after the fact, that he “embrace(s) and want(s) to learn from all walks of life and religions.”

And that this junk isn’t tolerated in New York City.

The Nets have twisted themselves into pretzels for three years trying to accommodate their capricious point guard. They’ve made compromises large and small.

One thing still seems likely. It’s hard to envision the Nets extending Irving beyond this season, but it was hard to imagine him returning to Brooklyn after a chaotic summer of trade requests and rumors. A decision not to extend would likely push the Nets to get something for Irving by the deadline if they decide to go that route. (It’s also possible that the Nets had been considering that option before the latest controversy. One league source told NetsDaily that the Nets were indeed planning to pursue that option.)

And the corollary question is always, WWKDDO, what will Kevin Durant do? Renew his trade request, forcing a massive rebuild on the Nets ... and with diminished assets to make that happen. The reality is that since the season began so disastrously, Irving, Durant, and Ben Simmons have all seen their trade value diminish.

All that aside, there is the more personal issue that Tsai will have to deal with. Everyone should be concerned with the dangers antisemitism present but executives, managers, fans who are Jewish are going to have a greater and more visceral response to Irving’s decision to post — and not remove — promotions of antisemitic materials. Moreover, this is a time of rising antisemitism. See Kanye West and Donald Trump’s recent comments. Already, a number of fans have taken to social media to express their disappointment and more, some saying they have ended their relationship with the Nets.

In fact, as Lewis reveals, Tsai spoke with the head of the Anti-Defamation League, the ADL, early in the controversy. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, tweeted out his concern and commended Tsai in a tweet.

Greenblatt and Tsai are the board of The Asian-American Foundation, which Tsai helped found last year to battle discrimination against Asian-Americans and Asians living in the US. The ADL and TAAF are partners as well.

Should we expect more news Monday. It is the Nets after all.