Kyrie Irving returned to practice Sunday, but the Brooklyn Nets sound like a team coming to grips with the realization that its starting point guard will not play in home games for the foreseeable future.
While the situation around Irving’s availability for home games due to New York City’s COVID-19 protocols could change, Nets coach Steve Nash said he knows the team will have to play games this season without Irving.
“We recognize he’s not playing in home games,” Nash told reporters after Irving practiced with the team in Brooklyn for the first time this preseason. “We are going to have to for sure play without him this year. So it just depends on when, where and how much.”
New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate requires a person to have proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to enter indoor gyms — including Barclays Center, the home of the Nets, and Madison Square Garden, the home of the Knicks.
But on Friday, sources confirmed to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps that Irving would be allowed to practice at the team’s HSS Training Center after the city determined that the Nets’ practice facility in Brooklyn is a “private office building” as opposed to an indoor gym.
“We are just starting to navigate this,” Nash told reporters Sunday. “A new rule comes in Friday and here we are. We are trying to look at the big picture. The near term, right now I am not sure we have as many answers.”
“I think right now we assume he’s not going to be available for home games, but anything can change,” Nash later added. “Who’s to say? The city ordinances could change. Anything could change. Right now we are just trying to remain flexible, open-minded and figure it out as we go because information is coming in by like the half-day here. … We found out Friday he can come back in the building. Things are shifting. No one’s been through this before, and we are just trying to figure it out as we go.”
The city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate prevented Irving from taking part in the team’s media day at Barclays Center on Sept. 27. Irving ended up participating via a videoconference call from his home. He practiced with the team for a week during the Nets’ training camp in San Diego.
Upon returning to Brooklyn, Irving missed four consecutive practices and a home preseason game Friday. But on the same day as the preseason game, the city made its determination on the HSS Training Center. Irving joined his teammates Saturday at an outdoor team event at Brooklyn Bridge Park and then practiced Sunday at the team’s facility.
Nash said Irving will not play on Monday in Philadelphia, where the Nets play the 76ers in a preseason game. The Nets finish their preseason with a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday. If Irving does not get a vaccination shot before then, he will go the entire preseason without playing in an exhibition game since the Nets held him and several other veterans out of the preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 3.
Nash said Irving was cleared to participate in everything in practice Sunday.
“It’s not something we, I have experienced before,” power forward Blake Griffin said of what the Nets will do if Irving cannot play in home games. “Whatever he decides, whatever the team decides, whatever agreement we come to or whatever happens, we are just going to support him. When he is here, we can use him. He’s amazing. I’m not even going to waste time trying to wrap my head around something that I don’t know the situation yet. We will adjust and act accordingly.”