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Nets focused on moving forward in wake of front office decision on Kyrie Irving

The Nets will be without Kyrie Irving until he’s “eligible to be a full participant” in practices or games. The Nets cornerstone, who’s unvaccinated, is no longer allowed to practice or even enter Barclays Center until his status or New York’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate changes which will likely depend how the city succeeds in its fight against the pandemic.

The decision, announced Tuesday morning by the Nets organization, was made by Nets GM, Sean Marks and Nets Governor, Joe Tsai, according to Marks. One day following the decision, the Nets were back at HSS Training Center practicing and preparing for the final preseason game Thursday night against the Timberwolves. Everyone, but Irving, was on hand. It was also the first time Nets players and Steve Nash were available to talk about the decision.

Steve Nash expressed his support for the front office’s decision on Irving and like Marks, said he’d “love” to have the guard re-join the organization but under different circumstances. The Nets head coach — who stated the decision won’t hang over the team — said he’s focused on moving forward in the meantime.

“I support the decision. A lot went into it, so it’s not easy. We discussed all the possibilities and all the things that are going on. I support the decision and if things change, we’d love to have Kyrie back,” Nash told reporters at practice Wednesday. “In the meantime, we’ll build, keep growing with this group and move forward.”

2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

He wasn’t alone in his sentiments. James Harden — who has been vocal about his main goal is to deliver a championship to Brooklyn — spoke for the first time about the decision to keep Irving away from the team. The guard explained how the decision was a front-office one and said the team would clearly like to have Irving with them.

“That’s the front office. We had conversations as far as a collective unit. The ultimate decision that the front office made was that if Kai wasn’t going to be here full-time then it’s better for him not to be around the team part-time,” Harden said. “I have no say-so in that, so I can only state my opinion and we got to continue to move forward.

“Obviously we would love to have Kyrie here.”

Harden emphasized his main goal hasn’t changed. He believes an NBA title can be accomplished under his and Kevin Durant’s leadership ... whether that’s with or without Irving.

“We still have two pretty good leaders on the team. Obviously Kai is our leader as well, but we still have obviously myself and Kevin to lead, which we’re pretty good at,” Harden said. “And go out there and be great every single night.”

“For us, we just got to focus on the guys in this locker room that are here. That’s putting in the work every single day. That’s all we can control. That’s all we focus on,” Harden said. “Every single day is already a struggle. It’s already difficult just cause we’re trying to catch up and put it together. That’s the main thing we can focus on is getting better as a unit for whoever is in the locker room and preparing for the game for us.”

So, assuming no Kyrie, what will the Nets look like on the hardwood when the games officially count next Tuesday in Milwaukee.

“I think like last year, we will be adaptive and be able to go in different directions,” Nash said. “I haven’t made any firm decisions. I also don’t know [that] there will be any firm decisions. I think it’s something that’s kind of fluid for us unless something emerges that makes the most sense.

“But right now, we look at our depth, and we need to continue to produce from all those different options and find the combinations that work for us and find the combinations that work for different matchups.”

The Nets, of course, used 38 different starting lineups last season, in part because of health, in part because the Harden trade in January left them short roster players. They ultimately used 28 different players.

So far, it appears that Bruce Brown will fill in for Irving in the starting lineup. He joined the four other starters in Monday’s loss to the Sixers in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, I’ll try,” Brown said when asked about filling in for the seven-time All-Star. “Ky does a lot for us. So I mean, next man up. I try to do a little more if the team needs me to do that, but I guess I just play my role.”

The other possibilities include Patty Mills who the Nets like as a Sixth Man.

“I think collectively, as a group, everyone’s here for that reason, to be able to do their part for the betterment of the team,” Mills said of a championship. “Knowing this is going to be a collective group that has to fill the shoes and work together to be able to get this team rolling.”

Brooklyn will play their final preseason game Thursday night against the Hornets at home. Nash said that only Irving will be missing. The Nets have some roster decisions to make in the next several days. At this point, they have 20 players under contract. Of that total, two — Jordan Bowden and Brandon Rachal appear bound for Long Island. Kessler Edwards is already signed to one of the two two-way spots, leaving one final berth, the second two-way, a faceoff between David Duke Jr. and DeVontae Cacok.

Duke and rookie Cam Thomas both celebrated birthdays Wednesday, Duke his 22nd, Thomas his 20th. No word on what the Nets did to commemorate the occasion.