When the Brooklyn Nets have their big three on the court, they're almost unanimously seen as the powerhouse of not only the Eastern Conference, but the entire league. That's probably why 72 percent of GMs predicted that the Nets will win the 2022 NBA Finals in NBA.com's annual poll.
But what the GMs weren't asked is whether or not the Nets would still be title favorites if they "only" had a big two, and that's increasingly looking like it may be the way things pan out.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst, the Nets "remain unclear" on whether or not guard Kyrie Irving intends to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but "hope is waning" for the organization after there was a previous sense of optimism. Time is ticking, and though Brooklyn has been "outwardly supportive of Irving's process" and has worked on educating him appropriately, the team's "collective patience" is being tested.
Why? Because, believe it or not, the NBA preseason is underway and the regular season begins in just under two weeks. And if Irving still is not vaccinated, he won't be able to play in any of the Nets' home games (or any games in Madison Square Garden) nor will he be able to attend any team practices. He missed practice on Tuesday, which is an ominous sign.
The decision that will have to be made is whether or not the Nets are willing to allow Irving to report as a part-time player, only able to contribute in games outside of New York, or whether they'd rather "just keep him sidelined all together." Head coach Steve Nash has already said that they will not consider relocating practices outside of New York to accommodate Irving.
As Woj and Windhorst note, the Nets have a six-game homestead in just the second week of the season and another long stand, in which they play 20 out of 26 games at home, in the early months of the season. Not having Irving around for the large majority of those games and practices is obviously costly — likely for both Irving's wallet and for the Nets' ability to succeed — and time is of the essence in getting this situation ironed out.
Irving was fantastic in 54 games during the 2020-21 campaign, picking up his seventh All-Star season and recording close to a career high with 26.9 points per game to go along with 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds. The Nets, as it turns out, are probably one of the few teams that could still stomach the loss of a player of Irving's caliber, however, seeing as Kevin Durant is potentially the best player in the league, and James Harden isn't too far out of that race.