James Harden said he stands behind Kyrie Irving as a teammate but added he hopes the situation resolves itself quickly because the Nets are limited without him.
Asked if he hopes Irving gets vaccinated, Harden said on Thursday, "I want him to be on the team, of course. He's been a huge part since I've been here, a huge part of our success . . . He's just a special talent that you don't really see often, so of course I would want him to be on the team. He's one of the reasons why I came here."
Irving has not disclosed his vaccination status, but he and the rest of the team are subject to the New York City COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which requires they have at least one dose of the vaccine before being permitted to practice at their Brooklyn training center or play at Barclays. Irving has done neither.
Irving will not get paid for any games he misses.
if this persists, Irving’s absence will be hard to miss — he, along with Kevin Durant, led the team in scoring, averaging 26.9 points per game. It’ll be further complicated if the Nets get to the playoffs, which they’re certainly projected to do. The Nets, though, appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude — at least publicly.
"It'll work itself out, however it works," Harden said. "For us, it's just keep chopping wood, keep treading water. Every single day we focus on things we can control, things that we can get better at. Our focus tomorrow is for us as a team, myself, Kevin and the entire organization is getting better tomorrow in the preseason game, and after that, every single day. Whatever happens, happens. But we’ve got to focus on what we can control."
Harden said he hasn’t spoken to Irving recently, but respects his right to make his own choices.
"It's not disappointing," he said. "Ky believes in what he believes in. His family is behind him, we're behind him. That's all that it is. As far as us and our team, we have a job to do, and we're going to continue to do that job to the best of our ability and continue to come together, and build every single day, like the plan is scripted. The Ky situation will work itself out. As far as the team is concerned, we have to keep pushing."
He did add there’s no doubt that Irving’s absence hurts them.
"If he's not on the court, yeah," it hurts the Nets, he said. "He's one of our best players and one of our leaders. If myself or Kevin isn't on the court, we lose one of our leaders, our guys we look to, yeah [it hurts] . . . We have to figure it out. Whatever Ky's family and Ky and the front office figures out, and comes to conclude with, I'm sure everything will work itself out and everything will be good."