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James Harden on Kyrie Irving: ‘I want him to be on the team, of course’

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The Nets go into Friday night’s game vs. the defending NBA champion Bucks with a clean bill of health ... other than Kyrie Irving who has been ruled ineligible to play because he’s in violation of New York City’s COVID-19 regulations. He’s not been vaccinated so he can’t play. Of course, he couldn’t practice either this week for the same reason.

And so, it would appear the Nets current controversy will carry on for at least another day. There’s nothing to say that Irving won’t suddenly change his mind and get the one shot he needs to play, practice or participate in team activities.

At this point, the Nets — both management and players — say they want Irving back on the court, but respect his privacy claims.

“If he’s not on the court, yeah [it would hurt us]. He’s one of our best players and one of our leaders,” Harden said after practice Thursday.

“I want him to be on the team, of course,” Harden told reporters when asked if he hopes Irving would get vaccinated. “He’s been a huge part since I’ve been here, a huge part of our success. The success we did have last year, we were kind of finding a rhythm, that chemistry that we’ve built. I can remember last year that one road trip we had, me and Kyrie. He’s just a special talent that you don’t really see often, so of course I would want him to be on the team. He’s one of the reasons why I came here.”

But will Irving’s questions about biology have an effect on the team’s chemistry? Sean Marks told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that while the issue may be roiling social media, he believes his team is doing just fine, thank you very much.

“It’s definitely out in the Twitterverse more than it is in our locker room, without a doubt,” Marks said. “All I can tell you is what he’s told everybody: It’s a private matter, and he needs to talk to the right people and figure out in his close circle what he wants to do.”

“It’ll work itself out, however it works,” Harden added, offering some optimism. “For us, it’s just keep chopping wood, keep treading water. Every single day we focus on things we can control, things that we can get better at. Our focus tomorrow is for us as a team, myself, Kevin and the entire organization is getting better tomorrow in the preseason game, and after that, every single day. Whatever happens, happens. But we’ve got to focus on what we can control.”

Of course on Friday, Irving’s private decisions become a public matter with his first missed game ... and first missed paycheck, $381,000. More and more questions will be raised about when Irving might get vaccinated or give a steadfast no to the vaccine. That hasn’t happened yet.

Moreover, each day brings more controversy. On Thursday night, Jeff Van Gundy seemingly referenced Irving’s hesitancy during ESPN’s broadcast of the Rockets - Heat game...

Harden, who said he hasn’t spoken to his backcourt mate about his stand, was asked if he was disappointed. “It’s not disappointing at all. It’s not disappointing,” he said. “Kai believes in what he believes in. His family is behind him, we’re behind him. That’s all that it is.”

The irony is that the controversy is the only blemish on the Nets preseason so far. They are healthy, as noted, and the roster depth proved vs. the Lakers Sunday that their bench is solid, particularly on defense.

Harden spoke about one aspect of that depth when he praised Cam Thomas’ game in very personal terms. The seven-time All-Star and one-time MVP told reporters that the 19-year-old reminded him of himself, “Obviously Cam was a much better scorer than I was coming out of college,” Harden said of the 19-year-old.

In the same vein, O’Connor noted how Thomas has become a sponge talking to Irving and Harden, that he’s bonded with them and is learning from them as well. He was also featured, along with Harden and Kevin Durant, is a video distributed by the Nets social media team.

On the other end of the age spectrum, LaMarcus Aldridge spoke about his quiet confidence — and the team’s — as they take the court at Barclays Center. One thing he noted was that with his return, the acquisition of James Johnson and Paul Millsap, the Nets won’t have to worry about being pushed around.

“That shouldn’t be an issue this year,” Aldridge said.

Meanwhile, Blake Griffin spoke about his return to the Nets, noting that he did look around this summer, but felt more than comfortable in Brooklyn, a decision he’s referred to as a “no-brainer.”

“Anytime you’re coming into a familiar situation you have a little more confidence, you can relax about the other things and just focus on basketball and what’s important,” said Griffin. “That’s always good for me.”

He reiterated the point Wednesday night on Seth Meyers Late Night Show.

Who will play for the Nets Friday night? No word yet, but with only three preseason games left, expect a number of the seven player who didn’t step foot on the Staples Center court Sunday will play some minutes.

Steve Nash said he hasn’t determined who’s playing but he noted vets Patty Mills and James Johnson have both “ramped up” to where they could play. Neither played vs. the Lakers Sunday.

After hosting the Bucks on Friday, the Nets will host Practice in the Park for their fans on Saturday, then travel down the Turnpike to Philadelphia for a game with the 76ers on Monday. Irving presumably will be eligible for that game, but he like other unvaccinated players won’t be able to share team meals with his teammates, will have to stand six feet away from them during meetings and be assigned a locker distant from them.