We’re a quarter of the way into the 2021-22 NBA season and Kyrie Irving still hasn’t played for the Brooklyn Nets. The New York City vaccine mandate that has kept him off the floor is expected to remain in effect when new mayor Eric Adams takes office in January, and with Irving “not anywhere closer to getting the vaccine,” according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania in a Thursday appearance on the “Pat McAfee Show,” hope for his return this season appears to be waning. The longer this situation drags on, the more seriously Brooklyn will have to consider alternatives.
In October, ESPN reported that the Nets were listening to trade calls on Irving but not making them. SNY’s Ian Begley reported Wednesday that they continue to do so now. Irving would not need to miss home games for a new team if traded outside of New York City, but trading for him would still be complicated due to the player option on his contract. Few teams would make substantial sacrifices to land Irving without having him signed to a long-term deal.
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The Nets have said publicly that they would welcome Irving back if he became eligible to return, either by getting vaccinated or through a change in the New York City mandate. He is technically eligible to play in road games, but the Nets have decided against using him as a part-time player. His absence has strained Kevin Durant, who is playing 35.8 minutes per game, and James Harden, whose production has been inconsistent as Brooklyn’s lone star guard.
No trade appears to be imminent, but the Nets have struggled through a variety of maladies thus far this season. Joe Harris will miss significant time after undergoing ankle surgery. Nicolas Claxton has missed time due to illness. Irving’s return seems more like a necessity with each passing injury, and if it becomes clear that he won’t take the floor for the Nets, they are eventually going to have to start seriously considering recouping whatever value they can for him in a trade. Durant remains one of the NBA‘s best players and Harden is still at least an All-Star. The championship window is open, but without Irving, it may not stay that way much longer.