Irving is rejoining the Nets after a COVID vaccination controversy, and MaximBet has the best odds for his next team.
Kyrie Irving has cleared COVID protocols and is back practicing with the Brooklyn Nets. But what exactly does that mean for the rest of the season? Irving’s potential trade suitors and the NBA odds from MaximBet may help us make some sense of the situation.
Unless he has changed his mind without word leaking out, Irving is still refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, making him ineligible to play in home games at Brooklyn (or in road games in New York City, San Francisco and Toronto).
The Nets are about to open a three-game homestand and will not play on the road again until Jan. 5 at Indiana, so although Irving is “back” with the team there is a huge open question as to whether he will actually be able to help them all that much.
They Nets have 50 regular season games remaining, of which 22 are on the road in arenas where Irving will be permitted to play.
So the Nets are doing one of two things:
- They are truly prepared to make a championship run (Brooklyn is favored in the NBA Finals odds at MaximBet) with Irving only playing in road games, perhaps holding out hope that New York City’s executive order on workplace vaccination mandates will either expire or be overturned in court before the playoffs begin.
- They are showcasing Irving so that they can move him prior to the Thursday, Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline, perhaps believing that they need a size adjustment to their roster to better compete with Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta in the East.
The first idea is the one the Nets have to sell to their fan base, even those who agreed with Howard Stern’s assessment that Irving was an “idiot” for refusing to be vaccinated. But for every Stern, there is someone with less of a bully pulpit who actually supports Irving, who is exercising his right as an American citizen to choose what he puts into his body.
New York is COVID crazy right now and has been since March, 2020; and although Irving’s stance is seen as unpopular, there are a significant number of people who believe strongly that he’s merely upholding his rights as an American.
The Nets more or less banned Irving from the team when he would not back off his refusal to get vaccinated.
“I understood their decision and I respected it. I really had to sit back and try not to become too emotionally attached to what they were deciding to do. I had to sit down and really evaluate things and see it from their perspective,” Irving said Wednesday in his first public comments in several weeks.
“Last night I could barely sleep. I’m like, man, I just don’t want to come out and not be who I know I am as a player…(My) heart racing and just not being nervous and touching the basketball again, and just the rhythm of the game. I missed it.”
Head coach Steve Nash said Irving looked as sharp as can possibly be expected considering the guard’s layoff after the team, adding it’s too early to truly judge where he is physically, but guys were excited to have him back practicing.
What we here at MaximBet care most about here is whether Plan A or Plan B is the more operable plan, and the truth of the matter is that the Nets are going to have to figure this one out as they go along.
A new mayor, Eric Abrams, takes over in New York City during the upcoming weekend, and if there is one thing that New Yorkers have learned more than most during the pandemic it is that rules can change overnight.
And so, while Plan A seems more likely to work out than Plan B—especially since Kevin Durant, James Harden and Irving joined forces to achieve a goal—the Nets have been hoping since September that Irving would eventually change his mind and get vaxxed (Bradley Beal of the Wizards just did despite having come down with COVID and developing antibodies), which would allow him to play home games.
But at the same time, Irving is about as stubborn as they come in the NBA (and society). And as things stand, the Nets will find themselves undersized in the frontcourt during the playoffs if they do not make a move to add to their big man stable of Nicolas Claxton, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap.
Which of those guys, we ask, would be effective against Joel Embiid of the Sixers, DeMarcus Cousins/Brook Lopez of the Bucks, Clint Capela of the Hawks, Nik Vucevic of the Bulls and/or Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat?
And that brings us to the possibility of Irving ending up elsewhere. Currently, MaximBet has the favorites listed as Cleveland (2-1), Portland (3-1), the L.A. Lakers (4-1), Philadelphia (6-1), Dallas (8-1), Denver, Houston and Minnesota (10-1), Miami (12-1), Indiana and the L.A. Clippers (14-1) and Boston (20-1).
The Cavs as favorites is not the craziest idea in the history of ideas, Kyrie returning to the city where he won an NBA championship in 2016. Cleveland lost backup point guard Ricky Rubio to a nasty knee injury last night while blowing a 23-point lead in a loss at New Orleans.
Rubio was starting because Darius Garland was put into COVID protocols, and with starting shooting guard Collin Sexton already out for the season, the Cavs suddenly have a need for a backcourt scorer. Kevin Pangos and Denzel Valentine are now Nos. 1 and 2 on Cleveland’s backcourt depth chart, and that ain’t gonna get much done in the long term.
Would the Cavs go after Kyrie? They have the means to do so, because a trade of Love (and draft picks, which the Nets would insist upon) for Irving works cap-wise.
When we look at the other teams on Maxim’s favorites’ list, the possibilities become more complicated because finding a match for Irving’s $34.9 million salary is a big part of the equation.
“I think they are bringing him back to help the team,” said ESPN analyst Bobby Marks, former Assistant General Manager of the Nets. “They are sort of putting the moral police at the door, because let’s face it … in this business you are judged by wins and losses.”
“But also, until James Harden had those two good games in Los Angeles, nobody could get to the rim. But with the COVID absences, the rest load issue has alleviated itself. But going into this week, my understanding was that their plan was to wait this thing out, see if Kyrie picked up his player option in the summer, and go from there.”
Durant seems to think this current plan will get Irving on the floor this season. Ashley Blackwood, a spokeswoman for Irving, did not return a phone call.
“With us getting ravaged by COVID and us being down so many bodies, it felt like the perfect time to add a fresh body back into the equation. Somebody that can bring so much to the floor. We just needed it,” Durant said on the ETCS podcast. Teammate DeAndre Bembry said Irving “didn’t look too winded,” after practice Wednesday in Brooklyn.
Ultimately, though, what happens between now and the second week of February will be the determining factor. If a competitor makes a move between now and the deadline that the Nets feel they have to compete with, Irving may be the most tradeable asset on their team.
These deals would work cap-wise with the rest of the above-listed teams:
Portland Trail Blazers: C.J. McCollum, Robert Covington and Cody Zeller for Irving and Joe Harris.
Los Angeles Lakers: Irving and Joe Harris for Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn and Dwight Howard.
Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons for Irving.
Dallas Mavericks: Irving for Maxi Kleber, Willie Cauley-Stein, Reggie Bullock and Dwight Powell.
Denver Nuggets: Irving for Will Barton, Jeff Green and JaMychael Green and picks. Or for Jamal Murray, Jeff Green and picks.
Houston Rockets: Irving and Joe Harris for John Wall and Alperin Sengun.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Irving for D’Angelo Russell and Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels.
Miami Heat: Kyle Lowry, Markieff Morris and Dewayne Dedmon for Irving.
Indiana Pacers: Irving and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe for Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
Los Angeles Clippers: Irving and Paul Millsap for Eric Bledsoe, Marcus Morris Sr. and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Boston Celtics: Irving for Al Horford and Juancho Hernangomez.
Clearly, some of those trade possibilities are more enticing than others, and it takes two to play ball. And let’s face it, there are some teams that are afraid of Irving’s reputation as a bad teammate.
But at the same time, Irving is one of the most skilled one-on-one players in the NBA, and his talents are going to waste as he sits out. This tale will be told over the ensuing six weeks between now and the NBA trade deadline. As things currently stand, Irving will be eligible to play in only 10 games between now and then.
This will come down to a joint decision by owner Joe Tsai, general manager Sean Marks and Nash, and there most certainly will be input from Durant and Harden, given their close relationships to Irving.
But this Nets team was built to win multiple championships, and with Harden and Irving not signing offseason max extensions in the offseason as they had been expected to do, this could be a shorter window for the Nets then they had originally envisioned.
Also, after being sidelined with COVID, Harden — after not playing since Dec. 10 — returned on Christmas and averaged 37.5 points, 12.5 assists and nine rebounds as the Nets swept the Lakers and Clippers.
Remember: Everything changes every day in the NBA.
Just ask Rubio, who was on his way to a triple-double for the Cavs last night before one tiny misstep messed up his left knee. From the looks of it on TV, we will not be seeing him in the NBA again until next season.
So Cleveland needs to do something every bit as much as any contending team. And yes, the Cavs are a contending team.
Clearly, this one is “to be continued.”
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