Make it make sense.
The harm, aside from common sense, science and everything believed to be true about teams with championship aspirations, consistent standards and chemistry concerns, seems to open a sliding door that may never be closed again, as Irving will be allowed to play in road games — except for Toronto.
The Nets appeared to take a firm stance with Irving at the start of the season, after he declared he wouldn’t be vaccinated — thus, making him ineligible for the Nets’ home games due to New York City ordinances — perhaps feeling they had enough with Durant, James Harden and a band of role players.
But the recent events pushed their hands to leave the door open to Irving returning and in fact, seemingly propping it wide open for him to sneak into the back door as players who test positive scamper back home to recover.
It’s not Irving’s or the Nets’ fault the nation is going through a scary surge, and New York is likely ground zero for so much of anything given the population. It’s almost predictable, and vaccinated players shouldn’t be shamed by the revelation of catching this invisible and deadly virus.
The Irving optics aren’t optimal, regardless of responsibility.
Irving must undergo rigorous testing in the meantime before he’s allowed to play, but he will be permitted to practice with the teammates whose names he either knows or remembers from their limited time together.
Given the way the Nets have taken a “player-first” approach, it was likely run through Durant, who wasn’t going to say no to partnering back up with his buddy. The Nets didn’t create the city mandate, and would’ve accommodated Irving by any means necessary just to have him on the floor, however the rules allow.
Irving isn’t the only unvaccinated player on a roster. He just happens to be notable, loud and confusing while being otherworldly talented, spellbinding and flat-out enjoyable to watch — and in the New York market.
With the ramped-up protocols for the holiday season, it doesn’t appear Irving will be treated much differently than other players on the Nets. From the daily testing to the restricted rules that will seemingly come into play, he’ll feel like one of the guys.
He’ll get his way, in a way. He vowed to be a “voice for the voiceless,” but maybe his Zoom screen was muted. It appeared very unlikely he would get the vaccine from the moment it was revealed he was unvaccinated, and he’s not the type to worry about wearing a scarlet letter on his forehead.
He’s so used to drama he can sit in the muck with you and stall you out until you give up your chain.
And so, the Nets folded, it seems.
Durant has been taxed, with someone named David Duke Jr. (yes, you read that correctly) playing starters’ minutes and Kessler Edwards, Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe getting more burn than anyone could’ve imagined while Harden has struggled mightily or declined heavily.
And If Durant wanted this, initiated this, it was going to happen — even if it’s bound for disaster. He’s been playing MVP ball and could be saying to Sean Marks and Steve Nash, “Hey guys, I’d like to play like this in June, not December.”
The Nets are still 2 1/2 games above the champion Milwaukee Bucks for top seed in the East, as the Bucks are also dealing with COVID concerns with Giannis Antetokounmpo testing positive a couple days ago.
But the Bucks will be feared once Voltron forms. On the Nets’ roster, only Durant is feared, and he’s great enough it could almost be enough to get through the conference and to the Finals — but teams will line up for their best shot if given the chance.
Irving, vaccinated or not, alleviates that pressure. That is, when he’s healthy. Or not taking a break to clear his head. For a variety of reasons, he hasn’t been reliable over the last year and a half, and his teammates, coaches and front office have been left to assess the damage and speak for him, to defend him even when they aren’t sure of the answers.
The NBA’s answer has been clear: The show must go on. Christmas is calling, and the television networks have laid out too much money to team owners and players for them to be absent in the wake of the recent outbreak.
There’s no second-half schedule waiting for the league to make up dozens of postponed games, and provisions will be made for teams to sign emergency players in the face of shortened rosters.
None will be as talented as Irving, though.
Is there some master plan at play here for the Nets? Do they believe once Irving gets a taste of that basketball nectar he won’t be able to return to a life of inactivity, of sitting in the shadows in the land of the forgotten with Ben Simmons and Zion Williamson?
Is there some belief Irving won’t resist the competition, the camaraderie and the “told-you-so” platform he so craves that he’ll come back to the fold to join Durant and what’s left of Harden to play permanently for a championship that seems to be for the taking?
But if this remains a double-dutch dance as players return and get reacquainted, how will that affect Irving?
Will the Nets allow an unvaccinated player, however talented he may be, to stay around and be a part-time participant for the rest of the season and into the playoffs? It seems they are merely trying to get through the next few weeks, keeping Durant sane and in one piece while things level out.
Irving will likely believe he’s won the stare-down contest with powerful men, even if it’s Durant holding the true power here. But he’ll take his wins however they come, and the Nets will deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.
Winning at all costs can sometimes be applauded, but the view from here is hard to ascertain. The Nets are sacrificing principle for any greater good — they’re sacrificing sanity.