The Nets say they aren’t worried about integrating Kyrie Irving back into the part-time fold.
Irving, who cleared the league’s health and safety protocols on Tuesday, is back with the team after the organization reversed their initial decision to keep him away from the team until he was able to be a full-time participant in games and practice. Most importantly his estimated two-week ramp-up is underway and the first steps have been a success, say his teammates.
Although integrating a part-time player, let alone a seven-time All-Star, is a task no team has faced before, his superstar teammates don’t see that denting their growing continuity.
“Have you watched him play? He’s a master. He can score sixty percent, seventy percent of his shots if you don’t guard him. He’s a high IQ player so it’s a matter of him getting his legs up under him and his wind up under him,” said Kevin Durant after the Nets 110-102 defeat to the Sixers Thursday night. “For us, we’re going to run plays for him. We’re going to try to look for him and we play team basketball. He can adapt through anything out there so we’re not worried about him.”
When James Harden was asked how Irving looked in his first practice back, Harden made it short and sweet.
“Like Kyrie,” said Harden. “Elite.”
Harden, who will be sharing the star-studded backcourt with Irving is ready to pick up where they left off and said he’s happy to have him back.
“It’s the same Kyrie. We’re just happy to have him back,” said Harden. “We got to get him on the court and get this thing going.”
Neither of Irving’s fellow superstars would put a date on that return. The Nets next road game is next Wednesday in Indiana. If not then, the Nets will have to wait another week, till the Nets face the Bulls in Chicago.
Durant said that while Irving has met that first eye test, he isn’t sure how much practice the superstar guard wants or needs before taking the court in a Nets uniform again.
“He looked great,” said Durant. “I don’t know if he wants to probably play a little bit more before he gets into game situations, but he looked great to me.”
The 29-year-old guard, who’s only eligible to play in the remaining 22 road contests due to New York City’s vaccination mandate,ha said that he’s “at peace” with the ramp-up plan.
“I’m at peace with the ramp-up but I can’t sugarcoat it. I’m just looking forward to that first game, whether it be the 5th or some time after that,” said Irving at the teams’ practice Wednesday.
Irving is rejoining a team that currently sits on top of the Eastern Conference (23-10) and has the best road record (13-3) in the league. But they’re only a half game ahead of the Bulls.
Nash, too, remains very confident that there will be no negative impact with Irving being a part-time player when he returns to the lineup. The plan is to keep it simple.
“I may be a little naive but I think just keep it really simple. Kyrie plays on the road and we figure out how he rejoins the group, finds his rhythm and his place on the team. When we come home, we go back to normal and the way we’ve been all year,” said Nash on fitting Irving back into the fold.
“We just try to keep it really simple, don’t overanalyze or complicate it. Try to enjoy it and try to put him in a position to succeed, to enjoy what he’s doing, and then the positives of having him back can be high. That can also have an effect hopefully on us when he’s not in the lineup and guys are not having much of a burden in every single game.”
Prior to Thursday’s loss, the Nets head coach made it clear he hasn’t revisited his preseason conversations with Irving about getting vaccinated and Irving wasn’t asked if his vaccine stance has changed.
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