There was a moment during the Nets’ public "Practice in the Park" event on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn Bridge Park where Blake Griffin engaged in a lighthearted moment with Kyrie Irving. It seemed significant because it was the first time Irving was permitted to be around his teammates since returning to New York from a week of training camp in California.
Irving had missed all three practices at the team’s training facility in Brooklyn because of a New York City COVID-19 mandate preventing unvaccinated people over the age of 12 from entering public venues. Late Friday afternoon, the city ruled that HSS training facility was a private building, which meant Irving, who has not publicly specified his vaccination status, could return to practice on Sunday.
But when Griffin was asked how Irving fit into the mix at the outdoor event on Saturday, he reflected the welcoming attitude Irving has received from all his teammates. "It’s never really an issue of ‘fitting in’ at all," Griffin said. "I’ve known Kyrie for so long. He’s great. When he’s around, the energy’s better. You notice his presence, you know?
"So there’s no ‘getting used to.’ I saw him on Sunday (Oct. 3 in Los Angeles). It’s not like it’s been four months. He was just gone for a little bit. So he’s back, and we’re here to support him however. We’re always glad when he’s around, and we’re glad he’s here."
After the Nets’ HSS training facility was exempted from New York City’s vaccine mandate, Irving was cleared to practice fully and took part in Sunday’s practice. Coach Steve Nash said he didn’t do enough to give the team a firm idea of where his conditioning stands.
Perhaps that had something to do with the decision to not bring Irving to Philadelphia for Monday night’s preseason game against the 76ers even though it was his last chance for game action before the regular season. Irving will miss the final preseason game against Minnesota Thursday night at Barclays Center because that is a public arena that requires proof of at least one dose of vaccine.
Nash admitted Irving might miss all 43 games the Nets are scheduled to play in New York, including two at Madison Square Garden. Even though Irving is eligible for all road games, Nash said "it’s possible" Irving might come off the bench or see his role reduced in the regular-season opener Oct. 19 at defending NBA champion Milwaukee.
So all the Nets’ coaches and players must adjust to seeing Irving go in and out of the lineup this season. How will that effect a team with title aspirations?
"I don’t know to be honest, I really don’t," Griffin said. "It’s not something that I ever have experienced before. Whatever he decides, whatever the team decides, whatever agreement we come to or whatever happens, we’re just going to support him.
"When he’s here, we can use him. He’s amazing. I’m not even going to waste time trying to wrap my head around somebody that I don’t know the situation yet. You know what I mean? We’ll adjust, and we’ll act accordingly."