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ESPN star Stephen A. Smith slammed Kyrie Irving on Tuesday for his absence from the Brooklyn Nets this season over his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, arguing that the team wouldn’t have gotten swept by the Boston Celtics in round one of the NBA Playoffs if he had played a full season.
Fresh off the Nets’ 116-112 loss in Game 4 on Monday night, Smith called out Irving on ESPN’s “First Take,” saying that it’s not a question of his talent but rather his commitment to the team.
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“When I say to you I would never give [Irving] a long-term deal, I’m not implying that I wouldn’t give him the money. What I’m saying is, I would be an opt-out after every year if I could pull it off,” Smith said. “You’ve got to show up to work because that’s at the heart of all of this.”
“If Kyrie Irving was there throughout this season, do the Nets get swept in this series? I don’t think so. I think everybody knows the answer to that question. It’s no,” he continued. “There might have been a better chance for them to win the series. I still thought they were going to win the series. There’s no way in hell they get swept if they’re an actual team. The problem is they’re not.”
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After Monday’s loss, Irving seemingly pointed to his off-court issues as a “distraction” for the team.
“I think it was just really heavy emotionally this season,” he said, via ESPN. “We all felt it. I felt like I was letting the team down at a point where I wasn’t able to play. We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. And I think it became a distraction at times. And as you see, we just had some drastic changes.”
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Irving also suggested he would seek a “managing” role within the team, something Smith called “nonsensical drivel.”
“Don’t you need to show up to work first? Don’t you need to be a reliable commodity…”