The Brooklyn Nets didn’t want unvaccinated Kyrie Irving to be part-time player.
But because of COVID-19 cases, injuries and an increasing minutes load for Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets will allow Irving to play in road games in jurisdictions where unvaccinated players are allowed to play, according to multiple reports.
A New York City mandate prevents unvaccinated players from playing in games at Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden, and at the start of the season, the Nets parked Irving on the sideline, saying they didn’t want a part-time player for road games only.
The only way Irving could return depended on New York changing its mandate (it hasn’t), Irving getting the vaccine (he’s opposed to that), or the Nets allowing him to play in a majority of road games (looks like that is happening now).
A timeline for his return is not known, and Irving, who is not being paid for games missed in New York, will have to return five consecutive negative COVID-19 tests before he is allowed to rejoin the Nets and will be tested often as an unvaccinated player. Irving will not be allowed to travel to Toronto for games against the Raptors after Jan. 15, per the Canadian government’s ordinance that travelers entering Canada must be vaccinated unless there’s a documented medical reason.
The Nets, who are in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 21-8 record entering Friday’s games, play the Orlando Magic at home on Saturday, and seven Nets, including Harden, are in the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols. Brooklyn is in need of players, especially as Durant piles up the minutes, a situation Nets coach Steve Nash said was “not safe or sustainable.”
The Nets’ concern is understandable.
On the other hand, it’s an eyebrow-raising situation. At a time when there is concern about a highly transmissible COVID variant on the rise, the Nets, who have been hit with an outbreak, are bringing an unvaccinated player into the lineup.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.