Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving FAQ: Future in question, trade talk, impact on paycheck and more

ByTim Bontemps and Bobby Marks ESPN logo
Tuesday, October 12, 2021

With one week until the start of the NBA regular season, it's unclear when Kyrie Irving will play for the Brooklyn Nets again.

The Nets announced Tuesday morning that Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to become a full participant under local COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate requires a person to have proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to enter indoor gyms -- including Barclays Center, the home of the Nets, and Madison Square Garden, the home of the Knicks.

There are still numerous unknowns about Irving's situation before Brooklyn takes on the defending champion Bucks on Tuesday in Milwaukee (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Here's everything we know and don't know about Irving, the Nets and how the next few weeks (or months) might play out:

Why did the Nets decide to keep Irving away from the team?

Ultimately, the Nets decided the idea of having Irving attempt to be a part-time player was too big of a distraction to overcome. Thus, the team chose the only other alternative it had available: Keep Irving at home full time instead.

"Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant," Nets general manager Sean Marks said in the statement announcing the team's decision. "Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability."

After Irving wasn't around the Nets at all last week because of the city's vaccine mandate, things shifted Friday evening when New York City declared he would be allowed to practice at the team's practice facility because it was a private business -- unlike Barclays Center, which it deems a public one.

But after Irving was with the team for an open practice Saturday and a regular one Sunday in Brooklyn, it was notable he did not make the trip to Philadelphia to even be on the bench for Monday's preseason game against the 76ers.

When Nets coach Steve Nash was asked about the decision to leave Irving home before the game, his answer was vague.

"We're just trying to navigate this thing," Nash said. "We don't really know what's going to happen tomorrow ... we're just trying to take our time to figure out what everything means.

"New information seems to come in every week, and we're just in that process of not only trying to navigate the information, the parameters, but also what's coming down the line, how it looks and feels and what we can do to make this work and all those things. That's all."

Less than 24 hours later, the Nets made it clear where they stood.

Why would the Nets not want him to just play road games?

This is an unprecedented situation as the Nets could have potentially gone long stretches without being able to work with Irving.

In the second week of the regular season, the Nets begin a six-game homestand in which they will be in New York for 13 consecutive days.

Playing Irving immediately after such long absences from game settings would have been untenable. And that's just the next month. These awkward starts and stops would have repeated themselves throughout the season, and that's less than ideal.

"We're not looking for partners that are going to be half-time," Marks told the media Tuesday. "I don't think that would be fair, not only on the team and staff and ownership and fans, but, to be quite frank, not fair on Kyrie either. When you're putting someone out there that potentially can't get the right ramp-ups and right buildups and so forth, and look as good as he and the team should under a different set of circumstances, that's why this decision was ultimately made."

Could Irving be traded?

Despite his All-NBA talent, teams could be reluctant to trade for Irving for several reasons.

There is some question as to whether Irving would immediately report to a new team if he was traded to a city where there wasn't a local vaccine mandate. He has shown a willingness to leave without permission, regardless of consequences. Last season, Irving took an unapproved two-week sabbatical and missed five games for personal reasons, paying nearly $900,000 in fines for violating league protocols.

"Had a lot of family and personal stuff going on," Irving said. "So, just want to leave it at that."

Additionally, Irving has two years, $71 million left on his contract but has a player option next summer that would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent. Teams will be hesitant to give up significant players and draft picks for what could be a short-term arrangement.

If the Nets do get to a point of no return, the Oklahoma City Thunderare the type of team that makes sense as a possible trade partner.

The Thunder can absorb the entire Irving contract and save Brooklyn $145 million in salary and tax penalties for this season. More important, the Nets would go under the luxury tax for this season and stop the clock as it pertains to the repeater tax penalty in the future.

The Nets would also create a $35.3 million trade exception -- the largest in league history.

What's the impact on Irving's paycheck?

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to a reduction in pay of 1/91.6 of a player's salary for each game a player misses under the "reasonable cause" portion of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, a modified formula from the one that each side agreed to for last season's 72-game campaign.

The NBA's expectation, sources said, is that Irving's refusal to get a vaccine shot, and thus being unable to render services to his team, will fall under the "reasonable cause" clause and force him to give up roughly $380,000 per game.

If he misses every game in Brooklyn this season (including preseason games), plus the two regular-season games against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, it would cost him north of $17 million.

Irving is not suspended by the team and will continue to receive his salary for away games. The amount in loss of pay will increase once the playoffs start in mid-April and Irving begins to miss home playoff games.

But the players' association, sources said, has stressed it does not believe that is necessarily the case, something executive director Michele Roberts said publicly to the New York Daily News.

"They've been reporting that we've agreed that if a player who was not able to play because of his non-vaccination status, they could be docked [pay]," Roberts said. "We did not agree. The league's position is that they can. We'll see."

In the Health and Safety Protocol memo issued to teams on Oct. 4, the language is clear that a player will lose a percentage of his pay if he refuses, without proper and reasonable cause or excuse, to participate in any game during the 2021-22 season.

In this case, Irving is available for away games and it is the discretion of the team that he will not play.

Even though the Nets have said Irving cannot practice with the team at home, he will not be fined for any of the missed practices.

Meanwhile, Irving is eligible to sign a four-year, $187 million extension with Brooklyn.

After Durant signed his extension this summer, Marks expressed optimism an agreement could be reached with Irving, but those talks are on ice, sources said.

Are other NBA teams or players affected by local vaccine mandates?

Three cities -- New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles -- have COVID-19 mandates that could affect players on the New York Knicks, Nets, Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

In New York, to enter any gym -- including Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center -- individuals need proof of at least one COVID-19 shot; in San Francisco, individuals must be fully vaccinated.

While the orders in New York and San Francisco apply to the players on those teams, the situation in Los Angeles is murkier. The Los Angeles ordinance, which was both passed by the Los Angeles City Council and signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday, will go into effect Nov. 29. Starting that day, anyone entering, among other facilities, indoor gyms will have to be fully vaccinated. Staples Center said the Los Angeles ordinance does not apply to it or Microsoft Theater, "who are already subject to an existing LACDPH order addressing this subject matter."

Both the Lakers and Clippers said last month that their teams are, or are in the process of being, fully vaccinated.

Of note, Warriors swingman Andrew Wiggins received a COVID-19 vaccination and will be eligible to play in home games this season, coach Steve Kerr said. Wiggins applied to the NBA for a religious exemption, but that was declined by the league.

It's also important to note that "non-resident performers" are exempted from all three orders, meaning that -- as of now -- visiting players are not impacted by any of them.

Who will step up in Irving's place?

The Nets are as well equipped as any team to handle the absence of a star of Irving's magnitude, with both Harden and Durant available to run the offense. Patty Mills, the team's taxpayer midlevel exception signing, is projected to be the sixth man, while rookie Cameron Thomas has, at least initially, been the other guard in Nash's rotation. Even without Irving, Brooklyn could have the NBA's best offense this season.

"I mean, he's a special player, so it is going to be hard to duplicate what he brings," Durant said of Irving. "But professional sports are about the next-man-up mentality, so we are looking forward to guys stepping up and filling in that role as best as they can."

"He's a special player. We want him a part of this group. But a lot of stuff is out of our control, and we will let him figure that out for himself. It doesn't mean that I will say that I don't want him on the team. He's a huge part of what we do, but guys got to step up in his absence and be who they are and move forward."

ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.

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