After the Brooklyn Nets‘ turbulent season ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of his former team, the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving was so sure about his future.
“I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving told reporters.
It was not the case when Irving was asked to stay away from the team after he refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Nets came into the season as the title favorites. But Irving nor the Nets did not expect the curveball that torpedoed their best shot to win the elusive NBA crown finally.
“When we got to the training camp in San Diego, I wasn’t expecting a mandate to be brought down that it was not gonna allow me to play at all,” Irving said on Boardroom’s The ETCs.
Irving wondered about his future with his team and his career as days turned into weeks, weeks into months, waiting for the New York City to lift the vaccine mandate that kept him from playing in their home games and at Madison Square Garden.
“I was wondering at home what my future was going to look like, whether I was going to be traded, whether I was going to be released, or whether I would get the opportunity to be on another team. How was I going to spin this for myself in a positive way? I kept affirming to myself that things are going to change,” Irving said on Boardroom’s The ETCs. “I have people around me, and I’m grateful for them for affirming things are going to change.”
The Nets were able to survive the early months of the season without Irving until a knee injury to Kevin Durant and a wave of COVID-19 infections caused the team to fall from the top of the Eastern Conference. It was the opening Irving needed to get back on the court.
The Nets eventually relented and took Irving back as a part-time player for their away games.
“But I never felt like myself throughout the season because I’m usually sustaining a level of growth instead of trying to catch up with everybody that’s been playing for four to five months. They’ve been at it since October. I was at it, maybe September or October. I was healing from my ankle injury and still dealing with that,” Irving said.
Irving tried his best to catch up since his return in January and peaked in March when he scored 50, 60, and 43 points in three of a four-game stretch in a span of two weeks. But despite returning to the lineup, the damage has been done. James Harden eventually asked out, in part, due to Irving’s messy situation.
“I had the opportunity to play away games still, but there was no plan in place or vision of how it’s going to work for our team. I think that really impacted not just me but a lot of people. So I just had to sit on the hot seat for a little bit and handle it,” Irving said.
It was a little too late when newly-elected New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted the mandate for Irving and other athletes. With Ben Simmons, the headliner in their Harden trade haul, unavailable, the Nets folded up quickly with little chemistry in the playoffs.
The good news is they will have Irving to run it back with Durant and, hopefully, a healthy Simmons and Joe Harris. But it comes with a heavy price tag for another championship-or-bust season that keeps on digging Joe Tsai’s pocket, which also lost between $50 million and $100 million combined in the 2021-22 season.
Irving is expected to decline his $36.5 million player option next season and sign an extension for up to four years, $183.6 million or for five years, $247.6 million.
.@KyrieIrving on not being able to play home games throughout most of the season:
"I never felt like I was 'back.' … I never felt like myself throughout this season."
— Boardroom (@boardroom) May 3, 2022
As Irving wondered about his future early in the season, the Nets were left wondering at the end of another lost season what could have been if only their superstar guard adhered to the city mandate.
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