So, Kyrie Irving is back with the Nets. But not for their game against the 76ers Thursday night at Barclays Center. And not for their games against the Clippers on Saturday and the Grizzlies on Monday.
All of those are home games at Barclays Center. Irving is not eligible to play those games because he is in violation of the New York City vaccine mandate for COVID-19.
Irving only is eligible to play the Nets’ remaining road games, except for two in New York against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and one in Toronto, which has strict vaccine requirements. So Irving can play in 22 games at best because one road game at Portland that was postponed has not yet been rescheduled. He might only be eligible for 21 games if the Portland game is not made up.
For now, the main thing is that the Nets are playing the 76ers and Joel Embiid Thursday night at Barclays Center. Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie Cam Thomas all came out of health and safety protocols on Tuesday and will be available to play.
The major point of Irving’s return is to dial down the workload that has been placed on Durant and Harden, both of whom are averaging just under 40 minutes per game this season.
"Naturally, if Kyrie plays on the road, he can help take everyone’s minutes down a little bit," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "The reality is Kevin and James want to play. They don’t want to take less minutes. If we navigate that and we try to find moments where we can hold their minutes down or, hopefully, we can have some games where they don’t have to play all of their minutes or sit down a game here and there."
So Harden returned from quarantine and averaged 37.5 points in wins over the Lakers and Clippers on the road. Now Durant, Aldridge and the rookie Thomas are out of protocols.
The Nets are as healthy as they possibly can be even though rookies Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. remain in protocols. All of them played extremely well in the absence of veterans who were in protocols.
Nash was asked how the Nets’ lineups might look from night to night depending on whether they are playing at home or on the road.
"I don’t think we’re going to get too locked into any one thing" Nash said. "I think we’ll be flexible. The other thing is we haven’t put a ton of thought into it because, in our league and with our team, once you start conceiving of things, everything changes the next day. So it’s kind of a wasted errand. For us, let’s see where the group is at the day before, the day of, and the night of and we’ll make decisions that way. Something always seems to come up and that’s fine, that’s what we’re dealing with but we want to predict that and preempt that and be ready and fluid with it."
So that’s where the Nets are at right now. Nash understands his job is defined by the times in terms of the effect of COVID-19.
"It’s a bigger picture for me," Nash said. "My year or so on the job I realize that we live in a different time. So if I came in thinking here’s how we’re going to do it, it’s just not that way. You have to be adaptable. If anything, I’ve learned in this period is to be flexible and to be willing to adapt quickly and there’s going to be more decisions to be made."