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Nets’ championship pursuit undermined by Kyrie Irving vaccination status

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 Durant – who 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+