The Brooklyn Nets Have an Opportunity to Make Kyrie Irving a Full-Time Player, but It Will Require Swallowing Any Ounce of Integrity They Have Left

The Brooklyn Nets had championship visions heading into the 2021-22 season. With a superstar trio of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant, the Nets were set to embark on a quest to win their first NBA title. But Irving had different plans, as the mercurial point guard refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19. As a result, Brooklyn kept him away from all team activities, refusing to indulge the idea of the All-Star playing in a part-time capacity.

It was easier to keep Kyrie away before the season. But as the Omicron variant tore through the league, Brooklyn put its morals aside and allowed Irving to return as a part-time player only eligible on the road.

Now, as the 25-14 Nets battle for the top seed in the East, their morals will once again be tested. As it turns out, there is a way Irving can, in fact, be a full-time player in spite of New York City’s very-publicized vaccine mandate. However, it would require Brooklyn to punt on the idea of integrity in a full-fledged pursuit of an elusive ring.

Kyrie Irving is back on a part-time basis for the Brooklyn Nets

Days before the regular season, general manager Sean Marks explained why an unvaccinated Irving would not be with the Nets.

“He has a choice to make, and he made his choice,” Marks said via ESPN. “Again, my job here is to make what we deem as the best decision and best choices for the organization moving ahead as a whole. They’re not always ones that are going to be met with open arms and a thumbs-up. These are hard decisions. Just like I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Kyrie either to have to make that [decision] to not be around his teammates.”

Yet it was Marks who, two months later, justified Irving coming back after Brooklyn was hit with numerous positive cases.

“Our objective is to win,” Marks told reporters via Sports Illustrated. We’re sitting here faced with a roster that has been decimated. I’m forced to make decisions. … In essence, this is the best decision for this team at this juncture, with what we’re dealing with.”

On January 5, Irving made his Nets debut after missing the first 35 games of the season. He scored 22 points in nearly 32 minutes as Brooklyn defeated the Indiana Pacers. Then on Monday, after skipping two home games, Kyrie dropped another 22 points against the Portland Trail Blazers.

There is a way Kyrie Irving can actually play at home

As the pandemic continues on, New York City’s vaccine mandate moves with it. According to NYC.gov, all adults aged 12 and up are required to show proof of full vaccination before being allowed into indoor establishments such as basketball games.

The mandate seems fairly cut and dry, preventing someone like Irving from being allowed into his own arena in Brooklyn. However, as Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News explains, there is a way for Irving to still play at Barclays Center. All it takes is a little bit of cash.

According to Bondy, the penalties for breaking the mandate, as outlined in Mayor Bill De Blasio’s executive order, are as follows:

  • First offense: Warning
  • Second offense: $1,000 fine
  • Third offense: $2,000 fine
  • Fourth and every subsequent offense: $5,000 fine

Brooklyn has 20 home games remaining this season, along with two games at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. That means if the Nets decide to violate the rules of the city and play Irving full time, it was only cost them a maximum of $98,000. For context, owner Joe Tsai is worth $8.9 billion.

The Nets have to decide if playing Irving is worth the moral backlash

As you can see, there is a financial element to playing Irving illegally. But a very minuscule one for a professional franchise with a billionaire owner. Ultimately, the decision to play Kyrie purely and simply comes down to morals.

The Nets have to look at Irving in a risk-reward sense. The obvious reward is regaining the full-time service of a seven-time All-Star in their pursuit of a title. There’s very little question as to whether adding Kyrie improves the Nets or not. If he, Durant, and Harden are fully healthy, Brooklyn will be incredibly difficult to defeat in a seven-game playoff series.

On the other side of the coin, there are optics at play. In October, the team made a firm decision to keep Irving away altogether until he gets vaccinated. That of course changed in December. But imagine if it changes again, where the Nets go from putting health and safety above all else to openly violating NYC’s rules and playing an unvaccinated player for the sole purpose of chasing a ring.

Just like Kyrie has a choice to get the vaccine or not, the Nets have a choice to tell their star it’s either a shot in the arm or no shot playing. As of now, they’re keeping him as a road-only option. But what happens when the playoffs start to inch closer? Or if Harden or Durant suffer an injury? Will Brooklyn decide that it’s now OK to make Irving a full-time player, even if NYC says it’s not allowed?

The Nets have changed their minds once already. It’s not inconceivable to believe they’d do it again.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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