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Thanks to Nets' "cold pragmatism," unvaxxed star Kyrie Irving returns for away games, boosting team, but raising questions about "unprecendented" path to playoffs (+ return to Barclays?)

He's back--and the controversy/debate continues.

Star Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, thanks to a reversal of team policy to allow him as an unvaxxed part-timer, entered the lineup for away games starting 1/5/22 and immediately made a difference.

Returning Kyrie Irving comes up big as Nets rally past Pacers, the New York Post reported 1/5/22, describing how the guard quickly got up to speed.

He obfuscated when asked about vaccination:
“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Irving said. “It’s not an ideal situation, and I’m always praying that things get figured out and we’re able to come to some collective agreement, whether it be with the league or things that’s going on that can help ease what we’re all dealing with with COVID and the vaccine.
Post Columnist Mike Vaccaro that night wrote the obvious, that Kyrie Irving provides big reminder Nets are better with him, suggesting this meant the team could indeed contend for a championship--and might have an incentive to avoid a home court advantage in the playoffs.

Since then, the Nets lost to the defending champ Milwaukee Bucks at home without Irving, lost to the Trail Blazers with a strong Irving performance (but a tired team), and blew out the East-leading Chicago Bulls with Irving (who had a "quiet outing") .

Today, with Irving, they play in Cleveland against the surging Cleveland Cavaliers, another test. It's the start of nine road games among 11 total games, and star Kevin Durant is injured, which means more workload for Irving--hence the Daily News back page citing "1 1/2 Men," a reference to the guard's part-time status.

"Cold pragmatism"

"Anyone who loves the game had to delight in seeing Kyrie do Kyrie things again," wrote Beck, adding that its strange for the Nets have to change their lineups and rotations between road and home games, and an unprecedented effort to "become the first team ever to win a title with an All-Star playing just half of every playoff series."

He's clear-eyed about sport as business:
If there’s one consistency to the Nets’ handling of this craziness, it’s that they’ve chosen cold pragmatism each time. In October, that meant not using Irving as a part-time player, believing it would be too disruptive. In January, in the face of a flagging rotation and exhausted stars, that meant bringing him back anyway.
What if... the Nets let Kyrie play?

He suggested that the fines for non-compliance--a warning up $5,000, max--would be easy for team owner Joe Tsai or Irving to pay.

Bondy recognizes it would be wrong, and requires unlikely league cooperation:
The optics of disobeying a vaccine mandate simply because of vast wealth and basketball is horrifying. It’s not something the Nets want to explore. Nor should they. Beyond the implications of operating in a city while breaking an emergency mandate, the NBA sent a memo in October outlining separate repercussions for players, including possible reduction in compensation and suspension. So the league would have to relent as well, which is less believable than a Nets organization that already allowed an unvaccinated Irving to return as a part-timer.

But he points out the hypocrisy in the city allowing visiting performers and players to be unvaccinated, as well as allowing vaxxed crowds at arenas that inevitably take their masks off to eat and/or cheer, at a time when Omicron is more infectious.

Won't happen--or might it?

Could Nets play Kyrie Irving in defiance of New York City regulations? In a word, no, suggested Net Income (Bob Windrem) of NetsDaily--noting that Bondy's column channeled an emerging fan narrative--because it would be a p.r. disaster for the Nets and the NBA. He also offered some tidbits:
It is in fact the latest convoluted workaround that the team or its fans have suggested. The Nets reportedly tried to get the city to recognize that Irving, as a resident of New Jersey, is not covered by the city regs. There was even a vague rumor, denied by the Nets, that they had explored either practicing or playing in Newark to avoid the city regs.
Net Income notes the illogic of Irving's vax refusal but concludes:
The percentage of players who’ve gotten vaxxed now approaches 99 percent. Irving is an outlier and one who obviously feels comfortable in his position. And why not, he has gotten a billionaire to back down and survived a bout with the virus.

In comments, some fans disagreed that it impossible for Irving to play at Barclays, especially since principles are flexible. Wrote one:

NI [Net Income] keeps talking about how that the league won't let the Nets defy local ordinances, but what is the actual precedent for this? What's the league going to do, kick the richest owner in the sport out of the league? Doubtful... There is no scenario where part-time Kyrie is going to help the Nets win anything significant... Being "principled" about how the league may respond to breaking the rules, but not principled about the stand they initially took with Kyrie from a public safety standpoint, is just another form of cowardice by this organization. It's like that old Seinfeld joke about having "a little class." You're either principled or you're not, and the Nets are not anymore.