Nets’ championship pursuit undermined by Kyrie Irving vaccination status

Nets star Kyrie Irving
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Kyrie Irving chose not to get vaccinated.

In a relatively quiet offseason of player movement, perhaps no decision looms larger over even just on-court NBA results.

The Nets face a government vaccine mandate to play in New York City. With Irving ineligible home games, the organization is holding him from road games and practices, too.

Brooklyn still remains championship favorite. Kevin Durantwho signed a four-year max extension – and James Harden are that good, and the Nets did well to build depth. But their potentially overwhelming talent advantage is gone.

Maybe Irving will become eligible to play before the playoffs. He has repeatedly indicated he’s open to getting vaccinated. New York’s mandate could also end as the threat of coronavirus dissipates.

But for now, the Nets have really been dealt a blow by the combination of Irving and New York City.

Patty Mills ($5.89 million taxpayer mid-level exception followed by a player option) looks like more necessity than  luxury now. The guard was coveted by practically every contender in free agency. It’s now even more important Brooklyn won his services.

Jevon Carter, acquired with the No. 29 pick for Landry Shamet, can also handle rotation minutes at point guard.

So can multi-position Bruce Brown, who accepted his qualifying offer after a strong season. A player accepting his qualifying offer rather than signing a long-term deal usually indicates his impending departure from a team. But perhaps the Nets – deep into the luxury tax – were content to keep Brown on just a $4,736,102 salary for now. He might follow Spencer Hawes with the 76ers as the second player to accept his standard-contract qualifying offer then re-sign with the same team the following year. Brooklyn has made such nice use of Brown as a de facto small-ball center.

The Nets also loaded up veterans bigs for minimum salaries: Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, James Johnson and LaMarcus Aldridge. Convincing Griffin to re-sign for just the minimum was an especially positive development. It probably helps that the Pistons are still paying him so much. He looked rejuvenated after joining Brooklyn post-buyout last season.

Another minimum signing, DeAndre' Bembry, could work his way into the wing rotation. So could No. 27 pick Cam Thomas, though he and No. 29 pick Day’Ron Sharpe – like most rookies – will likely need more time to develop. No. 49 pick Marcus Zegarowski and No. 59 pick RaiQuan Gray appear ticketed for the Nets’ minor-league affiliate.

Brooklyn cycled through plenty of future second-round picks this summer. The Nets got one and swap rights on another in the Spencer Dinwiddie sign-and-trade, sent four (and the season-long cash limit of $5,785,000) to dump DeAndre Jordan onto the Pistons and got one/lost one in a pair of trades with the Pacers and Rockets that trimmed salary on net.

Curiously, Brooklyn saved just a projected $8 million between those Indiana/Houston deals. The Nets could have saved a projected $22 million with only the Houston trade, forgoing a second-round pick from the Pacers. Brooklyn could have bought a future second-rounder for way less than $14 million.

But, to his credit, Nets owner Joe Tsai is willing to spend big. That’s a key reason this roster is so stacked.

Yet, even Tsai hit his limit once Irving didn’t get vaccinated. Brooklyn reportedly pulled Irving’s max-extension offer. Harden didn’t sign his, before last night’s deadline, either.

That’s way more uncertainty than ideal. Harden and Irving can both opt out next summer. Harden has spoken about finishing his career with the Nets, but rejecting the extension suggests Harden still wants to keep his options open.

Irving’s situation is even more tenuous. A championship contender losing a star indefinitely is a huge setback

Offseason grade: D+

Watch Trae Young get ejected for launching ball at referee


Trae Young screwed up and he knew it.

“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said via the Associated Press after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”

With the score tied at 84 in the third quarter, Young had a 3-pointer disallowed and an offensive foul called on him for tripping the Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith. A frustrated Young picked up a technical foul for something he said.

Then walking back to the bench, Young turned and launched the ball at the referee with two hands. It was an instant ejection.


“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.

Young can expect a fine for this. It also was his 15th technical of the season, one more and he will get an automatic one-game suspension.

The Hawks went on to win 143-130, improving Atlanta to .500 at 37-37 and keeping them solidly as the No. 8 seed in the East.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.