The NBA championship-favored Brooklyn Nets answered one of the NBA's biggest questions Tuesday on the eve of the regular season (next Tuesday) as the team announced that seven-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving would not be allowed to practice or play with the club until he complies New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. For now, Caesars Sportsbooks oddsmakers have not changed any Nets futures, but if Irving were to opt-out of the season that would change.
"Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant," Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said in a statement. "Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability."
New York City mandates would not have allowed him to play in any Nets home games in Brooklyn or any against the Knicks in Manhattan – that would mean a minimum 43 games missed. Then obviously any Nets home playoff games. Recently, a new mandate had allowed Irving to practice at home when the city ruled the Nets' HSS Training Center a private office instead of a gym, but clearly that wasn't enough for upper management. Irving's daily status in road games would have been a huge distraction.
"It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice," said Marks. He added that the decision to keep Irving away from the team had been made by himself and by owner Joe Tsai. "Will there be pushback from Kyrie and his camp? I'm sure that this is not a decision that they like."
Irving hasn't said why he will not get vaccinated but his aunt not long ago told Rolling Stone that his stance is "not religious-based, it's moral-based." The magazine also reported Irving had liked Instagram posts from an anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist.
Last year in 54 regular-season games, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds and became only the fifth player in league history to average at least 25.0 points per game while shooting at least 50 percent from the field (50.6), 40 percent from deep (40.2) and 90 percent from the free-throw line (92.2).
Brooklyn was 12-6 in the regular season without Irving, averaging 116.9 points, and 36-18 with him, averaging 119.1 ppg. He can become a free agent after this season. The team has two other point guards in offseason free-agent addition Patty Mills and trade acquisition Jevon Carter. James Harden is essentially a point guard, too.
Clearly, the sportsbooks are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether Irving caves in to avoid losing tens of millions of dollars. Brooklyn remains the +225 NBA title favorite and has the highest Over/Under win total at 56.5. The Nets still are -1.5 favorites for opening night next Tuesday at Milwaukee.
It is believed that Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal is the other big-name player not vaccinated but D.C. doesn't have any mandates that would prevent him from playing and visiting players are allowed to play in cities that have them like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
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