Friday, October 7 2022
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For the past few months, the Brooklyn Nets and Kyrie Irving have expressed hope that the New York City vaccine mandates would eventually be lifted, and he would be able to play in home games. But with the NBA playoffs rapidly approaching, and NYC mayor Eric Adams showing no interest in lifting the private sector mandates, it appears that Irving will not suit up at Barclays Center this season. 

On Monday, Kevin Durant discussed the situation with reporters and gave some insight into how Irving is feeling about the situation. 

“He’s frustrated in not being able to play,” Durant said. “He figured this stuff would be rolled back by now, we’d be way past this. But it’s the situation we’re in, we got to deal with it, he’s got to deal with it. Trusting that it’ll get figured out there soon. I have no clue what may happen, but I’m just trusting that things will work itself out. But I’m sure he misses playing in front of a home crowd and the home crowd, vice versa, they miss him. So hopefully we get it figured out soon.”

Irving, who the Nets initially decided not to play at all, has only appeared in 19 games. He’s often been spectacular in those outings, but his lack of availability is a major factor in the Nets’ disappointing 37-34 record, which has them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and heading towards the play-in tournament. There were also reports that Irving’s part-time status is one of the reasons James Harden wanted out of town. 

But despite the fact that Irving has clearly hurt the team with his decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, Durant said the organization has his back. 

“We love Kyrie as a human being,” Durant said. “I don’t think we were ever upset at him as much as people on the outside were. We get that it may affect the outcome of some basketball games, but that’s not the only reason why we love Kyrie as a person because what he can bring to the court. I think overall him as a human being, we respect who he is, we respect the game on top of that.

“He made the decision for himself, so you just got to respect it and move forward,” Durant continued. “We wasn’t coming in here every day pissed off at him because he wasn’t around. We’re just trying to focus on us individually and who was in this building as a collective and let that stuff work itself out. When he was able to come back in here, it felt like nothing changed.”

Once the title favorites, the Nets are now likely going to have to play half their postseason games without Irving, and may not have Ben Simmons available either depending on what happens with his back injury. They are still going to be a formidable opponent with Durant leading the way, but it’s hard to envision them winning it all under those circumstances. 

Durant, though, is not focused solely on this season. 

“If you’re looking at it as if, like, this is our only chance to ever do something special with this group — and other people looking at it that way — then I can see why,” Durant said. “But to be honest, I signed here for five years to play. You know what I’m saying? Looking at, obviously, this year’s important, but no matter what happens this year I still want to do it again. And again. I want to continue to play, have this group together as long as we can. So short term, we can focus on that for sure, but we also looking at the big picture of things too.”

“I’m not guaranteeing that we got a championship,” Durant continued. “But I just like what we’re building. And I’m not going to say this is the only year we’ve got an opportunity to fight and work towards something. I don’t think next year we’ve got to start all the way over and try to figure out what’s the next iteration of the Nets. I feel like we can just build on what we have and see what happens. We got guys that are committed and want to be here.”

While it’s true that the Nets should remain a force in the East for years to come, Durant is already 33 years old and has not been able to stay on the court consistently since returning from his torn Achilles tendon. There are no guarantees about how long he’ll be able to perform at this level, and on some level it would be a shame if this ends up essentially being a lost season because Irving did not want to get vaccinated. 



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