Kyrie Irving does not know when he will get his first playing time of the season. The fact that it’s sooner than later is good enough for him right now.
Irving returned to train Wednesday with the Brooklyn Nets, outside of the NBA’s health and safety protocols and potentially just a few days away from fitting in with Eastern Conference leaders for the first time this season.
A possible return date: January 5, when Brooklyn visits Indiana, the next scheduled away game for the Nets.
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“I do not want to lie,” Irving said. “It has been relatively difficult to see from the sidelines. … But if I get the opportunity to get on the field and play with some of my teammates, even if it’s just away for away games, I’m grateful for that opportunity. ”
Irving has not played this season because he is unvaccinated and therefore does not comply with local rules in New York regarding those who work in the city.
The Nets decided earlier this month that the time had come for Irving to at least return to road games – with the exception of those in Toronto and San Francisco due to local policies in those cities – in a move that represented a marked shift in Brooklyn’s previous thinking that it does not want the perennial All-Star to be a part-time player.
Irving, who spoke to reporters in Brooklyn on Wednesday, said he respected the Nets’ stance. And now that the protocols are behind him, he is eager to go.
“I knew the consequences,” Irving said of his vaccination decision. “I was not prepared for them when no imagination came into the season. I had my thought process about being able to be a full time teammate and go out and have fun and deliver a great basketball out there. But that’s how it went. “Unfortunately, things are happening for a reason, and now we are here, and I am grateful for that.”
The Nets – led by NBA goalscorers Kevin Durant and James Harden – have been among the league’s best teams so far, even without Irving, and have had no worse than a share of the East’s lead without interruption since Nov. 28.
Clearly, they are hoping to get even better with him.
“Once we’ve been ravaged by COVID and we’m down so many bodies, it felt like the perfect time to add a fresh body back into the equation, one that can bring so much to the floor,” Durant said on his podcast about Irving’s threatening return. “We just needed it. I think the most important thing was that we needed more bodies out there. Adding Kyrie to the equation just makes us so much better as a team. He was down, we were down, it was pretty simple, to be honest. “
Durant, one of the Brooklyn players who has been dealing with the protocols this month, said it was a pretty simple decision: the Nets needed help, so Irving was contacted.
“When the team approached me, we had a good conversation,” Irving said. “They said, ‘We want you back,’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ This is always where I wanted to be. I wanted to play with the team in the capacity I can.”
It was not exactly a full training session for the Nets on Wednesday. Coach Steve Nash said the team’s “stay-ready group” came together to play and do some fitness work, and Irving was a part of it.
The plan has always been for the Nets to slowly ease Irving back into the fold because he has not been able to train at the NBA level for several weeks. There is still no sense of urgency, Nash insisted, saying how Irving handles each step of the process will determine the schedule.
“He looks great considering he just got off the records and hasn’t played basketball,” Nash said. “How does he recover from today? How many high-intensity matches does he need to feel comfortable, confident, from a personal point of view, for Kyrie, for the performance team, all the different goals. It’s still a changing landscape … but when he saw him in the flesh today, he looked as good as one might expect given all that has happened in the last few weeks. “
Irving said he has been home cheering his teammates at a long distance. The Nets have used 12 starting lineups and 20 different players in their 32 games, but have still not had as much as a two-game losing streak so far this season. Brooklyn is 9-0 after losses, and looks very much like a title contender, even without a seven-time All-Star and former NBA champion who has averaged 27 points per game. match in his first two seasons with the Nets.
“Being in this environment and playing with the best of the best is where I belong,” Irving said. “This is where I’ve worked all my life to be. So it was like cycling or just being to your first day of school again, just going out there again. And I missed it.”
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