Kyrie Irving has ramped up his non-contact drills but will not accompany the Nets on their two-game road trip because of the shoulder impingement that’s proving more complicated than perhaps originally believed.
Coach Kenny Atkinson said Tuesday that his All-Star guard, who’s missed the last nine games, reached “another level in terms of conditioning and shooting” but that team doctors still were uncomfortable with pushing him to contact. If there’s improvement, Atkinson said that Irving could progress to contact back in Brooklyn while the Nets travel to Atlanta and Charlotte. That opens up the possibility of a return Sunday against the Nuggets.
“We want to put him in the best situation to get healthy as quickly possible,” Atkinson said after practice at their training facility. “I think I used to get frustrated more, I’ve had my moments of frustration because I want him back so bad. You hear our performance staff and then you talk to Kyrie, and he understands. And then you get your mind to a place, like 'OK, that’s the smartest thing to do.' But there are moments where you want him back so bad that you get a little frustrated. But then you realize the best thing to do is to wait it out and make sure we’re all in a good place with it.”
The Nets have gone 6-3 without Irving, in part thanks to stellar play by Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s starting in his stead. The second-unit offense, though, has missed Dinwiddie’s production, and Atkinson said he’s looking forward to having a more balanced attack. Irving, he said, could even be slotted into that second unit from time to time.
“Their identity is defense right now,” Atkinson said of the unit. “Technically, you could put Spencer on that second [unit] and run it that way, or you could put Kyrie too. You could easily manipulate the minutes where whatever help they need offensively we can definitely do that minute-wise. So, my mind is turning when we get healthy, how we can balance that out.”
Irving, Caris LeVert (thumb surgery) and Kevin Durant (Achilles surgery) were all at the facility on Tuesday, with the latter two shooting during the portion of practice that is open to the media. Irving and Durant chose to come to the Nets partially for their state-of-the art facility and highly touted medical and training staff.
“They’re buying in,” Atkinson said of Irving and Durant’s involvement, despite their injuries. “You see Kevin, like, he’s incredible. Those are relationships that are building, and I think it’s just going to get better and better. We definitely do things — and I’m not saying in a better way or a different way — but we ask a lot in that area [medical] . . . I think they appreciate what we’re doing, the dedication and really our amount of resources that we’ve put into the area, player care is No. 1 for us.”
Durant is money. Durant headlined Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list this year, appearing on the magazine’s cover with the caption, "The NBA superstar shoots for billionaire status." “I’m honored to be on the cover of this month’s @Forbes,” he tweeted, along with a photo of the cover. “Congrats to this year’s #ForbesUnder30 class from a 2013 alum!”