It’s easy to contend that the Nets tried their best to convince starting guard Kyrie Irving to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus. Given their championship aspirations, his presence on the court is integral to their competitiveness. In addition, there’s no pleasure in absorbing the full cost of his $33.33-million salary when he’s not able to show up half the time. Forget the fact that he won’t be receiving any pay for missed starts; the more telling repercussion of his status as a part-time All-Star involves the inability of the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Given the all-too-real internal threats to stability, the Nets had no choice, but to totally decommission Irving. Needless to say, they would have wanted the other extreme. And, barring that, staying in the middle would have been the worst of the remaining alternatives. Initially, they were confident of convincing him to take the vaccine. When he kept on actively rebuffing their efforts, they then studied the possibility of having him join them for road games, in which health protocols allowed visiting players to suit up. It didn’t take them long to realize that the latter option was untenable.
Indeed, the Nets would have suffered from an identity crisis had they insisted on tapping Irving as much as possible. Imagine needing two sets of strategies for two different starting lineups. And in the face of his high usage rate, the adjustments would have been significant. Which was why even Kevin Durant and James Harden, the other members of the Big Three, knew insisting on a Big Two the right thing to do; inasmuch as they preferred that he be around, he needed to be all in. Else, he would be hurting their cause.
All signs point to Irving digging in his heels. He is, after all, known for espousing conspiracy theories and unscientific beliefs, all the evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Then again, there’s sense in never saying never. Stranger things have happened in the National Basketball Association; league annals are replete with examples of virtual impossibilities occurring due to an unforeseen twist in circumstance. It’s certainly what the Nets are hoping against hope would happen, but they know enough not to hold their breath while in waiting.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.