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The shift in leadership without Kyrie Irving

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving has an earned reputation for being a good teammate — Caris LeVert called him the best — which along with his skill and experience made a team leader. Most recently, he took Cam Thomas under his wing. Now, unless he gets vaccinated, he’s likely to miss a large chunk of the season, if not all of it.

Kevin Durant made that possibility clear in one of his comments post-game Thursday night. When asked about the persistence of questions on Irving’s availability, KD said it would no doubt come up ... repeatedly.

“I think it is going to come up throughout the year. It may not be an everyday thing like it is now, but I am sure it is going to come up here and there. But we’re pros; we understand, we know you all got a job to do. So it’s on us to focus in on our job and answer the questions. We’re not going to get irritated at what y’all ask; it’s just part of the job. I anticipate it happening throughout the season. We knew what we were getting ourselves into if something like this were to happen as far as media-wise. So get prepared now and just be locked in on your job and everything else will take care of itself.”

(Emphasis added.)

Saturday morning, Adrian Wojnarowski reported on his podcast that the Nets do not see Irving getting vaccinated. “Right now, [the Nets] are not assuming” that Kyrie will “change course.”

So all that said, who steps up now on the team’s veteran-heavy roster. Durant and James Harden are certainly available. Harden mentioned that earlier in the week, as Brian Lewis noted Saturday.

“We still have two pretty good leaders on the team,” Harden said this week. “Obviously Ky is our leader as well, but we still have obviously myself and Kevin here to lead, which we’re pretty good at.”

As Lewis added, Harden knows he’ll have be more vocal. He has never shied away from the challenge since arriving last January 15. He’s in constant communications not just with his teammates on their group chat and in person. He also talks regularly one-on-one with Sean Marks and Steve Nash. The Nets will have 12 new faces among the 17-man roster and one less old face with Irving banned from practice and play.

“Best believe that I’ll try to get guys together for dinners and hangouts and things like that more often, just so we can get to know each other outside of the court,” Harden said. “We’ve got a fairly quiet group. Most of the guys are to themselves. They stay in their own little shells. It’ll be nice to get them out, open up a little bit, even myself.

“I’m like the loudest one. I’m not that loud, but I’m naturally loud if it makes sense. … Paul [Millsap], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Patty [Mills], KD, you’ve got a lot of guys who are just to themselves. So it’s my job to kind of open them up a little bit more.”

He has some public endorsements already.

“James is more vocal [than Durant or Irving],” James Johnson told The Post. “You can definitely see what he wanted to accomplish or build on for this year is definitely happening.

“[Harden] is always talking, you know? He’s talking in film [sessions]. When you get on a bus, he comes in laughing and he’s talking. … Just keeping the vibe right. Make sure everybody is ready to go, make sure everybody is on the same page and just leading the group.”

Bruce Brown too thinks he can see Harden taking on even more of a leadership role. “Definitely in practice talking to us on the defensive end, offensive end, what he wants us to do,” Brown said.

“We have a quiet team. James was more the vocal leader,” Steve Nash told Lewis. “We need all our veterans to take on a little bit more [of a] leadership role. Hopefully we can raise the communication level and raise that connectivity in the locker room and on the floor.”

Nash, of course, is paid to be the team leader and Harden emphasized that he understands that. Harden’s best contribution may not be a rah-rah speech but as he says just playing his game.