Unvaccinated Kyrie Irving returns to Nets in win over Pacers

This is bound to end well.

This is bound to end well.
Illustration: Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is back with the Nets, but that doesn’t mean a fairytale season finale is guaranteed

Irving made his long-awaited return to the field for the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers and played a significant role in their 129-121 win. But with Irving wearing part-time gambling label as he remains unvaccinated and can’t play in New York City, I don’t see how this scenario doesn’t end in disaster for the Nets.

Irving didn’t seem to have much rust to shake off as he scored 22 points out of 9 of 17 from the field in 32 minutes against Indiana. But after one game, he will now miss the next two in Brooklyn when the Nets host Milwaukee and then San Antonio. This is how the rest of the season will be and how long the Nets will play in the postseason.

Barring Kevin Durant, I’m sure other players in that locker room are holding onto some kind of resentment behind the squad’s current situation. Irving is poised to double down, hoping to get in and out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. Plenty of other players had reserves on COVID-19 vaccination, but decided to do what they deemed necessary under the circumstances. Most of these players do not possess Kyrie’s power, nor do they cause the constant consternation that accompanies the number 11.

Nets head coach Steve Nash joked after the game about Kyrie’s first offensive game as a “welcome back gift”. Nash won’t say this publicly, but I’d be willing to bet he’s been through the entire Kyrie Irving experience. I mean, you can also see a few more gray hairs popping up on the manager’s head in the last year and changing. And Irving never thought Brooklyn needed Nash or a coach to get started.

The biggest test for the Nets, and this part-time player experiment, won’t come until the postseason. There will come a time when the Nets will have a pivotal home game in a series that Irving cannot participate in. We’ll see how great everyone is going to be about all of this at that point, especially if James Harden is still playing the way he has most of this year, as he’s shooting well below his normal field and three percent percentages. However, Irving’s part-time status is not entirely unprecedented in the NBA. Terry Dischinger played part-time for the Chicago Zephyr (now Washington Wizards) during the 1962-63 season. Different circumstances, but still a part-time player.

It may not seem like that to some, but this back-and-forth from the team with Irving is likely to reach Brooklyn at the most inopportune moment. Imagine an NBA Nets-Golden State Warriors final in June. Unvaccinated Irving would not be able to play in a single game of that series unless something changes in New York or San Francisco at the time. But the Nets reassessed the situation and decided to go back on their initial decision to seat Irving for the year. Now they have no choice but to live with the consequences for better or for worse.

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