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Is a Kyrie Irving return to Barclays realistic? And if so, when?

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Around the same time as Sean Marks began speaking with the media Friday, Kyrie Irving let loose with a flurry of tweets, not a common thing for the Nets guard. They were on variety of subjects, some more easy to interpret than others.

But the one that caught fans attention was this one...

What’s it mean? Fans hope it means he’s coming back and since he remains adamant about not getting vaccinated, maybe he has some inside information about a change in the New York City mandate that prevents him and others who are unvaccinated from even entering Barclays Center, let alone play.

At his press conference on the Nets blockbuster trade, Marks was asked about the possibility. The Nets GM was hopeful that the drop in COVID infections in the region as well as state actions on masks could be part of a trend that ends with Irving back on the court no matter where games are played. He even used the “O” word —- optimistic.

“The decision on the mandate, that’s obviously far above my pay grade and not something that I’m overly concerned about now,” Marks said. “I think we’re always going to be optimistic. I just look around the world and I see things are changing, whether it’s the mask mandates, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and then you’ve got entire countries who are changing their outlook on Omicron and COVID and so forth. So again, far bigger discussion.

“My hope would be that by the time we roll around to the playoffs, if not sooner. The world looks like a different place and the more people that are vaccinated and so forth, and we’re moving on. Economies have to keep moving, let alone NBA franchises.”

Indeed, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and Delaware have all pulled mask mandates in the past few days, but there’s no indication yet that the city is going to pull the vaccine mandate. In fact, Mayor Eric Adams has been hardline in dealing with the 3,000 or so city employees who have declined to get vaxxed and face being fired this weekend. Just last week, a spokesperson for Adams told Yahoo! Sports Chris Haynes that there are “currently no plans to amend the mandate.”

What is heartening on a number of levels is the drop in infections and deaths in the city over the past two weeks as the omicron variant appears to have peaked. Infections have dropped by 72 percent, deaths by 39 percent. The state numbers are similar. Moreover, as former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on MSNBC Friday “We don’t see anything on the horizon that’s going to dramatically alter that trajectory.” It’s a position many in the epidemiology community share.

The question of course is at what level will Mayor Adams move to modify or end the mandate. It would seem unlikely that any such decision will take place before the city’s new health director, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, takes over next month and has a chance to review the data. The timing of any change would be critical for the Nets, particularly at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. Indeed, of the last eight games of the regular season, Irving would be eligible to play in only one of them, a road game in Atlanta.

In the past, Irving has said he hopes the NBA, which is not a party to his dispute, will do something to alleviate his — and his team’s — situation. But maybe he knows something we don’t.

“I think the most frustrated person in this whole thing is Kyrie,” Marks said. “I mean, Kyrie is frustrated with the fact that he’s not able to be out there. … He’s obviously hoping for things to look different in the future here and for him to be able to participate in home and road games.”