For nearly two-thirds of the season, Kyrie Irving already knew the answer to a question that he did not like.
Could he ever become a full-time player for the Nets this season? For a while, the answer had been no. New York City had upheld a COVID-19 vaccine, which prevented Irving from playing in Brooklyn’s home games.
Could that change?
On one hand, New York mayor Eric Adams announced that the city would lift the mandate on March 7 “so long as our indicators show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week.” On the other hand, Adams told CNBC on Tuesday that making an exception for the Nets’ unvaccinated star guard “would send the wrong message.”
New York City’s #COVID numbers continue to go down.
So long as our indicators show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week, on Monday, March 7 we will also remove the vaccination requirements for Key2NYC — meaning indoor dining, fitness and entertainment venues.
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) February 27, 2022
Adams agreed that the current rule “makes no sense” since visiting unvaccinated players can still play in Barclays Center. But the city still has a mandate that workers who perform in-person work have to be vaccinated.
Irving told reporters over the weekend that he can “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” But the tunnel appears to still be shrouded in darkness.
Let’s dig into the mailbag on Irving and more NBA topics.
The Brooklyn Nets have played uninspired basketball for much of the season. Beyond the apparent injuries, it got me thinking: If Irving is not allowed to play home games, wouldn’t it make sense for the Nets to want to be a low seed so that in a seven-game series, they could have Irving available for four games as the away team? I’d take Irving over home court any day. If the ban is lifted, I expect the Nets to win as many games as possible. But otherwise, why not go in as the No. 6 seed?
— Sean Harmon from Waimea, Hawaii
Technically speaking, I get your point. The Nets are infinitely better with Irving. And even in normal circumstances, every NBA team needs to be equipped to win high-stakes playoff games on the road. But the Nets should not think this way for a number of reasons.
They need as many wins as they can to ensure they draw more favorable first-and second-round matchups. The more wins they compile, the more likely they have played well consistently both with and without Irving. And given the fluid nature of the world these days, Irving might become a full-time player once the playoffs actually begin.
What was an under-the-radar trade that really helped a team?
The Nets and the Sixers commanded most of the attention during the trade deadline for obvious reasons. In the spirit of your question, no need to analyze the impact Ben Simmons will make for the Nets and what James Harden will do for the Sixers. The best “under-the-radar deal” involved the Cleveland Cavaliers acquiring Caris LeVert from the Indiana Pacers.
Cleveland checked many boxes with this trade. The Cavs acquired a quick and athletic scorer that can bolster the team’s promising young roster. Cleveland also compensated for Ricky Rubio’s season-ending injury as well shedding his expiring contract.
The Cavaliers have been amazingly persistent with showing they are not just satisfied with being the young up-and-coming team. They want to knock down the doors. Expect LeVert to help Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland with reaching that next step. Will it be enough to unseat Brooklyn, Philadelphia or Milwaukee? Not necessarily. But the Cavs are putting all their resources into maximizing their chances in a season that could be up for grabs amid never-ending absences involving injuries and COVID-19.
Do you believe the Lakers can put together a winning streak without AD?
— Janet French
I don’t have optimism the Lakers can ever put together a significant winning streak, regardless of who’s in the lineup. I’m just writing these words because I witnessed the Lakers’ embarrassing loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. I’m writing these words because of what I have seen all season.
They have compiled one four-game winning streak as well as two three-game winning streaks. Those steaks happened when the Lakers had LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook on the floor. Though the Lakers showed remarkable fight against the Utah Jazz when Davis got hurt last week, they have not shown that engagement level consistently. Considering that Davis remains sidelined for at least the next three weeks, the Lakers are in for some more rude awakenings.
What’s the perception around the league on Andrew Wiggins? Would another team give him a max deal when he avoids asserting himself like a max player?
Wiggins has certainly enjoyed a career renaissance with the Warriors. He became an All-Star starter for the first time in his eight-year NBA career. He has become more consistent as both a perimeter scorer and defender. But has Wiggins become a max player? I don’t think so.
Wiggins has shown that he can operate consistently as a team’s second or third option. In the Warriors’ case, that is totally fine given they have such a strong infrastructure with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. But just as he experienced in Minnesota, Wiggins won’t ever be able to become a franchise cornerstone. This isn’t necessarily a knock on Wiggins, even if he deserves the heightened expectations due to being a No. 1 pick. But he has appeared much more comfortable in a complementary role.
Everybody knows that the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award goes to someone that provides “instant offense.” This makes sense since it seems hard to define “instant defense.” However, couldn’t one make the case that Gary Payton II is the definition of instant defense and place him as a candidate to the Sixth Man of the Year award?
— Giancarlo Lucchini from Santiago, Chile
Sure, include Payton as a candidate. In addition to Draymond Green’s presence, Payton remains a significant reason why the Warriors’ defense has usually been among the league’s best this season. Just like his legendary dad, Payton knows how to get under the opponent’s skin and wear them out. And Payton also plays the right way on offense with staying aggressive while never forcing the issue.
Thankfully, I don’t have to submit my Sixth Man of the Year vote until after the season ends. I’ll see how Kevin Love, Tyler Herro, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jordan Clarkson and perhaps others fare through this next month.
Hoops Around the World
We all know that the NBA has become a global brand and that basketball has become a global game. But what fuels your basketball fandom?
Got a good basketball story to tell? Write it up and send it my way. The best essays will be used in this feature throughout the season. We’d also love to see a photo of the hoop you play on, whether it be in your neighborhood gym or in the backyard of your driveway. Got a good image? Then pass along and we’ll feature it.
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NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.