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It's next man up for Nets after Kyrie Irving again skips practice in Brooklyn

Kyrie Irving of the Nets is congratulated by

Kyrie Irving of the Nets is congratulated by his teammates after he comes out of the game with a lead against the Bucks in Game 1 of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center on Saturday. Credit: Steven Ryan

Kyrie Irving missed his second straight practice at the Nets’ training facility Wednesday in Brooklyn, and neither coach Steve Nash nor Irving’s close friend Kevin Durant have a clue whether Irving will be available for practices and games in New York this season.

Irving has declined to discuss his vaccination status, but he is subject to a New York City COVID-19 mandate that requires people over the age of 12 to have at least one dose of vaccine to enter an indoor premise. If Irving is unvaccinated, he could miss up to 45 games in New York as well as every home practice.

Durant is hoping it doesn’t come to that. "I’m envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team," Durant said after practice. "Maybe I’m naive, but that’s just how I feel. I want him to be part of this group. He’s a special, special player and person, and we want him to be part of this group. But a lot of stuff is out of our control, and we’ll let him figure that out for himself.

"That doesn’t mean I’m going to say that I don’t want him on the team, you know what I’m saying? He’s a huge part of what we do. But guys have got to step up in his absence and move forward."

Both Durant and Nash described the Nets’ approach as a "next-man-up mentality" much the same as with an injured player. Asked if he expects Irving to be available soon, Nash said, "I don’t know. As it stands now, no, but I don’t really want to speculate on something that is currently up in the air. If there’s an update, we’ll update you."

No decision has been made regarding who might start in the backcourt next to James Harden when Irving is absent. Nash has been experimenting with a variety of lineups in practice.

"There’s two ways to look at it," Nash said of the vacancy. "It could be up for grabs, but it could also be a night-to-night matchup, style-based decision. It’s really early right now."

In one recent published report, Nets owner Joe Tsai said the organization supports Irving’s right to make his own personal decision regarding the vaccine, but he added that everyone with a championship goal should be "pulling in the same direction."

Asked how Irving’s continued absence might impact the Nets’ culture, Nash said, "I think those are things that will have to be resolved as we go here. I can’t really make a comment on something that I don’t think is resolved. It’s very, very early in the year."

No one on the Nets is closer to Irving than Durant, but he has steered clear of trying to counsel his friend on personal issues. "I don’t go giving out advice," Durant said. "This is his decision; that’s his choice. We all respected it. This is way bigger than hoops.

"I don’t feel comfortable talking to him about stuff like this. I’m just here to support and here to do my job as one of the leaders on the team. And when things get figured out, I’ve got trust and hope that it’ll get figured out . . . It’s a unique circumstance, but at the end of the day, he’s not here so guys have got to step up and be ready to play from the second we start practicing and [playing] games."

Notes & quotes: The Nets acquired guard Edmond Sumner and a 2025 second-round pick from the Pacers (via Miami) for the draft rights to guard Juan Pablo Vaulet. Sumner, who is injured, is expected to be waived.

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