NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving has officially become a distraction.
Irving, who said he didn’t want his COVID-19 vaccination status to be a distraction during Nets training camp, is unable to participate in practices at home because of the New York City vaccination mandate.
The Nets held their first practice at HSS Training Center Tuesday without Irving after holding the start of training camp in San Diego. The Nets are scheduled to hold practices at HSS again Wednesday and Thursday before hosting the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night in their second preseason game.
Irving was able to participate in training camp in San Diego because that city has no such mandate.
And he will continue to miss practices and home games for the foreseeable future, until he gets vaccinated, receives a religious exemption or finds another unlikely loophole through NYC’s mandate. Warriors star Andrew Wiggins held steadfast in his decision not to get vaccinated — up until it became clear he’d be forced to forfeit nearly half his salary because of San Francisco’s COVID-19 mandate. Wiggins, like Irving, would have been unable to play in home games or practice with his team.
He has since gotten vaccinated, though he’s been vocal about the decision being against his will.
“Time was not on my side. The season was starting soon. I didn’t want to miss basketball,” he said. “I didn’t want to get the vaccination. But it was something I had to do. … That’s not something I wanted to do, but I was kind of forced.”
Nets head coach Steve Nash offered no update on Irving’s willingness to get vaccinated. He also noted the Nets aren’t going to move practice to a different location — like Long Island or New Jersey — to accommodate Irving.
More questions about Irving, who wasn’t even in the building. More distractions for a team that should be focused on winning a championship.
It becomes a lot more difficult for the Nets to accomplish those lofty goals if Irving isn’t in uniform. He is one of just three previous NBA champions on the Nets’ roster, the others being Kevin Durant and ex-San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills. He is the team’s most aggressive scorer and averaged 27 points per game last season, shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 92 percent from the foul line — historic efficiency to say the least. And he’s a player the Nets need on the floor, speaking for himself, not on the sidelines, if they’re going to have a shot to win it all this season.
The Nets open the regular season on Tuesday, Oct. 19 against the Bucks. Their first home game is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 24 against the Hornets.
Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News