With a head scratching decision by the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving is back as a part time player.

Last time visiting the Kyrie Irving subject I said I would remain silent on all things until he returns to the court.

Well the time has come as Irving is set to make his season debut Wednesday night when the Nets visit Indiana to take on the Pacers.

Irving, who rejoined the team on Dec. 17 for practices and games in which he’s eligible to participate, will have missed the first 35 games of the season.

The All-Star guard began the season away from the team because he had not been vaccinated and New York City laws regarding COVID-19 meant he could not play in New York. The team initially chose not to have Irving play in road games, but as the Nets lost players to health and safety protocols in December, they welcomed him back as a part-time player.

Irving then entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Dec. 18 and was cleared on Dec. 28. The Pacers game is the Nets’ first road game since his return from protocols.

Irving, who remains unvaccinated, will play on a part-time basis; he’s only eligible for the remaining regular-season road games, and not even all of those. Irving is ineligible for road games at Madison Square Garden and in Toronto due to his vaccination status.

And I guess that is where the idea and timing for a return, particularly the return of a non vaccinated player into a league in crisis with Covid cases, was head scratching. Nonetheless Irving to his credit stayed committed and ready for when his number was called.

“There was just a lot of uncertainty, a lot of what ifs, a lot of scenarios,” Irving said. “It’s hard not to pay attention to what was being said about the circumstances that we’re under and everybody’s opinion on it. I just tried to stay grounded, to stay connected with the team, engaged, and just waiting for the time or the chance when things kind of settled down. I don’t even know if ‘settled down’ is the right phrase to be using with everybody testing positive and just what’s going on. When the team approached me, we had a good conversation. They said, ‘We want you back,’ and I said, ‘Absolutely. This is always where I wanted to be.’ I wanted to be playing with the team in whatever capacity I can do that.”

Irving said watching Nets games from afar has been hard, despite the team’s ability to win without him. As hard as it was for the organization to prevent him from being a part-time player at the start of the season, he understood general manager Sean Marks’ and owner Joe Tsai’s decision to do so, given the lack of continuity he’d cause the team.

“I understood their decision, and I respected it and tried not to become too emotionally attached to what they were deciding to do,” Irving said. “I had to sit down and really evaluate things and see it from their perspective, meaning the organization and my teammates. I just really empathized and understood their choice to say, ‘If you’re not going to be vaccinated, fully vaccinated, then you can’t be a full participant.’ I knew the consequences. I wasn’t prepared for them by no stretch of the imagination. Coming into the season, I had my thought process on being able to be a full-time teammate and just go out and have fun and provide a great brand of basketball out there. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that.”

If you were worried about any concerns or mixed emotions about Irving returning, still unvaccinated and only as a part timer, the Nets aren’t worried in the slightest.

“We’ve had a million different things happen in the last 12, 13, 14 months, so it’s no big deal to me,” Nash said. “I think it’s a great problem to have to navigate this and figure this out.”

DeAndre’ Bembry, who has known Irving longer than any Net — the two share an alma mater, St. Patrick’s High School in New Jersey — also offered a positive assessment of Irving’s practice performance.

“I’ve never seen Kyrie not be Kyrie,” he said.

Bembry said Irving “didn’t look too tired” and was able to get to the rim and score in both the midrange and from 3. Irving compared his return to practice to riding a bike.

“I can’t sit here and sugarcoat it,” Irving said. “It’s been so long that … I’m just looking forward to that first game, whether it be on (Jan. 5) or whether it be somewhere after that. However I can get back in shape on an optimum level and be able to be productive, that’s where I’m aiming for.”

Irving will be the first part-time NBA player in nearly 60 years, and there’s no indication of how it could go. Brooklyn’s big three has finally reassembled, and like last season, their time together to figure things out before the postseason will again be limited.

Leave a Reply