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A part-time Kyrie Irving isn't healthy option for Nets

Kyrie Irving of the Nets is introduced prior

Kyrie Irving of the Nets is introduced prior to Game 1 of the second-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Credit: Steven Ryan

Do the Nets really want to accommodate Kyrie Irving as a part-time player?

It’s looking more and more as if the team might have to make that decision.

Irving has missed three straight practices in Brooklyn and was not at Barclays Center for the Nets’ preseason home opener Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Irving has declined to discuss his vaccination status, but he is subject to a New York City mandate that requires people over the age of 12 to have at least one dose of vaccine to enter certain indoor premises, including Barclays Center.

A ruling Friday night by city officials that declared the Nets’ practice facility private could allow him to work with the team in that building.

But if Irving is unvaccinated, he could miss up to 43 regular-season games in New York.

Irving did practice with the Nets in their training camp in San Diego, and for weeks they have appeared to hold out hope that he would find a way to join them full-time. That hope still remains, but it seems to be waning. as the team moves closer and closer to its season opener.

"I’m envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team," Kevin Durant said after practice on Wednesday. "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."

The bottom line is that the Nets don’t need Irving to win.

They would like to have him. They are a better team with him. But even without Irving on their roster, the Nets still have a solid shot of becoming the first New York- area team in a decade to win a championship.

The Nets are stacked. They have the best player in the league in Durant and another top-10 player in James Harden. They also have a strong supporting cast in Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap.

Do the Nets really need to add a part-time player to that mix? Do they really want to have to juggle their lineups depending on the arena in which they’re playing?

Is it really fair to the ticket-paying fans at Barclays Center to deprive them of watching one of their star players? Is it really fair to the rest of the team? Is it really fair to Aldridge — who had to retire briefly last season because of an underlying heart condition — to ask him to play with a teammate whose vaccination status is unknown?

The Nets are better off with no Irving than they are with a part-time Irving.

Without the injured Irving on the floor in the final three games of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the Nets came within inches of beating the Bucks, the team that went on to win the championship. One of the big things that may have prevented them from doing so was the lack of consistency throughout the season.

Injuries and the late addition of Harden meant that heading into the playoffs, the Big 3 had played in only eight games together.

Irving, as much as anyone, is the architect of the Big 3, which makes his absence doubly annoying. It was Irving who convinced Durant to come with him to the Nets, the team he grew up watching in New Jersey. It was the presence of Irving and Durant that made Harden want to come to Brooklyn.

Now the team that was envisioned is healthy and poised to play 82 games together. Except it can’t.

Are you in? Or are you out?

Sooner or later, the Nets need to ask Irving that question. And on this, he owes them an answer.

New York Sports