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What's next for the Nets with an NBA-high 10 players in COVID-19 protocols?

Brooklyn Nets guard Shaquille Harrison, left, sits at

Brooklyn Nets guard Shaquille Harrison, left, sits at the empty bench at the start of a game against the Orlando Magic on Dec. 18, 2021. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

After postponing the final two games of their homestand against the Nuggets on Sunday night and an upcoming date against the Wizards on Tuesday night, the Nets face a mountain of uncertainty surrounding their three-game West Coast trip scheduled to begin Thursday night in Portland and includes a Christmas Day game against the Lakers and a Dec. 27 date at the Clippers.

The Nets currently have an NBA-high 10 players who are out because of health and safety protocols, and they are dealing with a variety of injuries and physical conditions that a source said contributed to the postponements because they would not have been able to meet the minimum requirement of eight healthy players even after signing three free agents last week.

Paul Millsap was the first to enter the required 10-day quarantine period after a positive or inconclusive COVID test on Dec. 13, and he was followed by six other Nets, including James Harden the next day. Millsap is the only one who should be available in Portland, although others could become available if they return two negative tests 24 hours apart before the quarantine ends.

Kyrie Irving, who was allowed to return to the team on Friday as a part-time player eligible only for road games, Kevin Durant and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe all entered the protocols last Saturday and would miss the entire West Coast trip because they are not eligible to return until Dec. 28, again, unless they return the two negative tests before that.

Players are permitted to exit quarantine after 10 days if they are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic if they are cleared by a physician. They still might test positive because of "viral shedding," but they could be cleared on a case-by-case basis depending on their circumstances.

So the Nets’ season is in flux to say the least. Speaking on Saturday following the test results for Irving, Durant and Sharpe, general manager Sean Marks said, "There’s going to be several guys, and they’re all going to be under a different testing cadence [to return]. It’s going to depend on vaccination status, on CT levels, on their testing cadence, symptoms and so forth.

"Everyone’s case is quite different. It’s affecting everybody differently, whether they have had vaccines, not been vaccinated, had booster shots and, to be quite frank, which variant they caught. So it’s a tricky one."

Nic Claxton sat out Saturday against the Magic with a wrist injury, and Blake Griffin struggled after reinjuring a knee. Patty Mills was supposed to rest that night but played 41 minutes. The Nets have not issued an updated report on their status.

Of course, much of the interest centers on the return of Irving, who has not complied with the New York City vaccine mandate and is ineligible for all remaining home games and games at Madison Square Garden.

The Nets have maintained their original decision not to use him was based on the need for continuity and was not a political statement about vaccination status. If there was no New York City vaccine mandate, they could not have prevented an unvaccinated Irving from playing if they wanted to because that would violate his rights under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.

But the question remains how long will it be before Irving plays, especially after testing positive for COVID. "In order for him to be able to practice with us, get back in the swing of things, there’s obviously going to be a ramp up," Marks said. "We have not seen him on the court, so I can’t tell you what physical shape he looks like. I assume he looks pretty decent, but…I really don’t want to talk about the hypotheticals."

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