In his first public comments since rejoining the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving admitted he missed basketball while off the team and says he’s nervous as he gets closer to his season debut.
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Irving, who recently got out of the league’s health and safety protocols, practiced with his teammates for the first time since a week of training camp in San Diego in early October.
How did Kyrie get to this point, and what does his return mean for the Nets, who currently lead the Chicago Bulls by a game and a half in the Eastern Conference?
Why hasn’t Kyrie Irving been playing?
With New York City ordering players to be vaccinated so they can play at Barclays Center, the Nets decided not to have Irving play part-time, appearing only in games and practices away from home.
The mandate dictated that Irving could not participate in more than half of the team’s games, with 43 of the Nets’ 82 games being held in New York City this season. Additionally, NBA players who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are also unable to travel to and from games in Canada.
In early December, the league sent a memo to teams advising them that starting January 15, 2023, players who have not received the vaccine and do not have approved medical or religious exemptions will not be able to travel to games against Toronto. Raptors
Just before the start of the season, in a statement, Nets general manager Sean Marks said the team would continue its season without Irving.
“Given the changing nature of the situation and after careful deliberation, we have decided that Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant. Kyrie has made a personal decision and we respect his individual right. Choice. Currently, the choice restricts your ability to be a full-time team member, and we will not allow any member of our team to participate with part-time availability. “
In his press conference with the media, Irving said he identified with the Nets regarding his decision.
“I really had to sit back and think and try not to get too emotionally attached to what they were deciding to do,” he said. “I had to really assess things and see them from their perspective, that is, the organization, my teammates. I really felt empathy and understood their decision to say that if you are not going to be fully vaccinated, then you cannot be a complete [participate]. “
Why did the Nets get Kyrie Irving back?
An increase in COVID-19 cases within the NBA prompted the Nets to make the decision to welcome their All-Star point guard, even as a part-time player. At one point, the Nets had as many as 10 players in the league’s health and safety protocols and even postponed three of their games in a week due to a lack of fit players.
Brooklyn opted to bring Irving back for his road games, but just a day later, he also entered COVID protocols.
Irving, his teammates Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge were removed from the protocols and declared eligible to practice this week.
When will Kyrie Irving make his debut for the season?
The earliest Irving can make his season debut is Jan. 5 when the Nets travel to Indiana. The team has three home games, in which Irving is ineligible to play, prior to that game. His next road game after Indiana is Jan. 12 in Chicago.
That won’t be the only hurdle Irving will have to overcome, either. He will also have to regain his conditioning to the NBA level.
Irving says he was working out in high school and high school gyms while out of the NBA, but this week was his first week facing NBA talents again.
“I’m at peace with the acceleration,” Irving said. “But I can’t sit here and sugarcoat it … I’m looking forward to that first game, whether it’s some kind of [Jan. 5] or sometime after that though, I can get back into optimal shape and be productive, that’s what I’m aiming for. “
Head coach Steve Nash said he thought Irving looked good for a guy who hasn’t played much basketball recently.
“It looks great considering he’s just got out of protocol and hasn’t played basketball,” Nash told reporters. “How do you recover from today? How many high intensity [practices] Do you need to feel comfortable, safe? “
How much better are the Nets on Kyrie Irving?
Given the talent on the Nets’ roster, Brooklyn is a championship contender even without Irving. But with him, they become favorites to the title.
Irving played 54 regular season games for the Nets last year and averaged 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds. Both Harden and Durant wanted Irving back and now they have him, albeit part-time. Irving believes that as long as all three are available to play, the Nets’ championship window will remain open.
“We have a lot more left in the tank,” Irving said. “But obviously our age of the three of us, being at a certain level of mastery in this game, it’s only going to last a certain amount of time. We wanted to hit while the iron is hot.”