Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Kyrie Irving says he thought Nets might trade or release him during absence over COVID vaccine

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Kyrie Irving’s decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine affected virtually every part of the Brooklyn Nets‘ season. They didn’t have him at all early in the season, and even after the team allowed him to return as a part-time player in January, he wasn’t allowed to play in home games until the end of the regular season. All told, he gave the Nets just 33 combined regular-season and playoff games this season. Star teammate James Harden forced a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers in part because of the workload Irving’s absence forced upon him. The Nets needed the play-in round to reach the playoffs because of all the games Irving missed. 

But not playing affected Irving as well. He opened up about what he went through while he was sidelined on The ETCs with Kevin Durant podcast and explained that sitting out caused him plenty of anxiety over his future.

“It was only the journey to enjoy at that point, because I was sitting at home and — I don’t even want to say sitting at home, I was wondering at home what my future was going to look like, you know? Whether I was going to be traded, whether I was going to be released, whether I was going to get the opportunity to be on another team, how I was going to spin this for myself in a positive way,” Irving said.

Ironically, Irving himself is part of what made a trade so unlikely. He has a player option for next season that he could choose to use in order to become a free agent. Any team trading for him would need to face the possibility that he might walk at the end of the season. From that perspective, Irving’s future was almost always going to be in Brooklyn, but that doesn’t mean things were easy for him even when he returned.

“I never felt like I was back,” Irving explained. The erratic schedule of only playing road games for most of the season and the drastic changes his roster underwent while he was a part-time player likely contributed to those feelings. Irving had the power to end those limitations at any time, but his decision not to clearly affected him in ways that reverberated throughout the season.

Now the vaccine mandate that kept Irving off of the floor in Brooklyn for most of the season has been lifted. He will be eligible to play the full season next year, but that does not necessarily offer clarity on his future. He is eligible for a contract extension this offseason, but considering his age, injury history and the saga of last season, it’s not clear whether or not he’ll receive an offer he’ll be satisfied with. While a trade or release is certainly unlikely, both sides will have to decide how committed they are to this relationship before moving forward.

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