It’s happened before.
Kyrie Irving is not the first superstar player with an NBA title to be a part-time teammate.
Thirty-nine years ago, Bill Walton attended Stanford Law School during the week and played on mostly weekends for the San Diego Clippers. Walton, who had not played for two years because of multiple foot injuries, had been told by doctors that he should limit his play to once a week during the 1982-83 season.
Walton, who had led the Trail Blazers to a championship in 1977 and was regarded as one of the best passing centers to ever play the game, played 33 games and averaged 14.1 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Clippers in the 1982-83 season.
Irving, who is expected to make his season debut Wednesday night in Indiana, will be eligible to play in 22 regular-season games if rules in New York and Toronto don’t change governing his unvaccinated status.
When I reached out to Walton via email, he had little advice for Irving or the Nets on how to handle a player’s part-time status.
"You could not find or create 2 more different scenarios," Walton wrote.
Ouch! Mostly true. But ouch.
While Walton was attempting to make a comeback on a bad Clippers team, Irving’s refusal to get the vaccine is ultimately what has kept him from playing so far this season on a team that has the potential to win an NBA title.
Initially, the Nets decided they didn’t want to go into the season with a part-time point guard. Yet, with injuries and COVID-19 taking its toll on a team that has had three games postponed because they didn’t have enough players, the Nets reversed course last month and decided to welcome Irving back in games he is eligible to play in.
There is one similarity, however, in the two scenarios. The coaching staff is going to have to be nimble and creative as it juggles lineups at home and on the road.
Pete Babcock, a former executive with the Clippers, Nuggets and Hawks, was an assistant on Paul Silas’ Clippers staff in 1982-83. Continuity was definitely an issue for that team, he said.
"It was really tough for Paul Silas," Babcock said in a phone interview on Monday. "The problem coaching is you’d have Bill for this game against the Lakers and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), and then he doesn’t play and you have Swen Nater or Jerome Whitehead. Those guys were really good guys, but they weren’t at the same level as Bill Walton in terms of capabilities."
Patty Mills has done an impressive job for the Nets in place of Irving and the injured Joe Harris. But there’s little doubt that Irving will take the starter’s job when he returns to the court, meaning that for now the team will be switching between the two depending on the schedule.
Babcock stressed that the star-laden Nets are in a much different place than the 1982-83 Clippers team that finished with 25 wins. Still, he believes it will be an adjustment.
"It’s going to be a challenge for sure," Babcock said. "Brooklyn is a much more talented team than we were. That part of it is different. It may not be the extreme we went through. But it still will be a challenge because you have a certain makeup of your team chemistry when Kyrie’s playing and then he’s not playing, so that dynamic changes. Again, they have outstanding players so it may not be as severe."
The Nets have the best road record in the league at 13-3, so it’s really at home where they could use Irving. That, however, is out of their hands.
It’s going to be interesting.