“Please respect my privacy.”
That was Kyrie Irving’s answer to a question posed by ESPN’s Malika Andrews on Monday when asked if he expects to play in home games this upcoming season. Although Irving was not physically present for Brooklyn’s media day due to health and safety protocols, he did take questions from reporters over Zoom.
While there is not an agreed upon vaccine mandate between the NBA and NBA Players Association, players who have not received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will not be allowed to play in games in New York or San Francisco as mandated by local laws in those cities. That impacts anyone who plays for the Knicks, Nets, or Warriors; visiting teams are exempt.
According to the latest reports, about 90% of all NBA players have received the vaccine. If current numbers hold, that leaves between 40-50 unvaccinated players across the league though vaccination rates are rising as the season nears. As outlined over the weekend by Rolling Stone, Irving is among a number of anti-vaxxers within NBA circles outwardly questioning the validity of the vaccine. To be clear, Irving’s vaccination status itself remains unknown though his absence on Monday certainly opens the window for further speculation.
What if Kyrie Irving does not play?
Barring a change in league policy or local laws, Irving will not be able to play in any of Brooklyn’s 41 regular-season home games until he receives at least one dose of the vaccination. Additionally, he would also miss road games at the Knicks (Feb. 16 and April 6) and Warriors (Jan. 29).
One of the biggest unknowns remains whether or not unvaccinated players will forfeit checks should they miss games. When the NBA and NBAPA negotiated in the offseason, enough players pushed back on a vaccine mandate to the point where it was never seriously on the table.
This is new territory for the NBA who has been a leader in navigating the sports world through unprecedented times.
It was the NBA who moved first in halting play, canceling games in March 2020 which led other leagues at all levels to follow suit. They managed to pull off the bubble in 2020 with zero positive tests, the result of strict protocols and rigorous testing regulations which left zero margin for error. They’ve aggressively promoted testing and worked with local authorities to establish specific game-day guidelines to keep both fans and arena workers safe.
And yet, what happens if players ultimately start missing games?
One way or another, this situation will work itself out. Games are on the schedule and it’s only a matter of time until unvaccinated players sit out in New York or San Francisco. The Nets are holding the first portion of training camp in San Diego where Irving will be allowed to work out with the team ahead of their first preseason game Oct. 3 against the Lakers in Los Angeles. The first game Irving would potentially miss is the preseason home opener on Oct. 8.
|Nets||Oct. 8||Oct. 24|
|Knicks||Oct. 5||Oct. 20|
|Warriors||Oct. 6||Oct. 21|
What is Kyrie Irving’s contract?
Again, we don’t yet know if unvaccinated players will ultimately forfeit checks for missing games.
Irving is scheduled to make $34.9 million this season which works out to $425,807 per game. Irving has two years left on his current contract and like teammate Kevin Durant — who signed a four-year, $198 million extension this offseason — Irving is eligible to sign a long-term extension.
How does Kyrie Irving’s status impact the Nets?
OK, so what if Irving misses time?
In short — they’d be fine. Such is the charmed life for a roster featuring Kevin Durant and James Harden. It’s a minuscule sample size but in 99 minutes last season, Nets lineups featuring Durant and Harden but not Irving pummeled teams to the tune of 19.5 points per 100 possessions. Lineups with Durant on the floor without either Harden or Irving were awesome, while lineups featuring Harden without Durant and Irving hung tough. Remember, this is a team that came one Durant big toe away from taking out Milwaukee despite a hobbled Harden and no Irving.
Given his role and relative strengths on the roster, Irving is as much of a luxury as he is a necessity.
Zooming out, Brooklyn has given no indication that it has any hesitation in signing Irving to that extension.
With Durant locked in and James Harden soon to follow, keeping Irving in the fold solidifies and extends Brooklyn’s championship window for the foreseeable future.
And yet questions around his availability and overall commitment loom large. Off the court issues aside, Irving has long struggled to stay on the floor dating all the way back to his rookie season when he missed 15 games. He has missed at least 10 games in all but one season and for his career, has appeared in just 74% of his team’s possible games.
Beyond the latest complications and uncertainty, Irving regularly missed time last season while taking multiple absences for non-injury and non-basketball-related reasons. It’s absolutely reasonable to at least take a long look in the mirror and ponder whether the uncertainty and drama are worth cutting a check for another $200 million.