When one Nets star enters the lineup, another tends to exit. That's the trend Brooklyn has been living through since acquiring James Harden a year ago. The trio of Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant has appeared in just 16 games together since that blockbuster, and sure enough, just as the Nets welcomed Irving back as a part-time player, Durant went down with a sprained MCL in his left knee.
That injury has prompted many to wonder if Irving, sensing his team's need for more consistent production on his part, might reconsider his position on getting vaccinated against COVID-19 so that he could help the team on a full-time basis. The answer, as he revealed after Monday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, is no. "I've made my decision and I'm standing by it," Irving told reporters after the game.
"It's not going to be swayed just by one thing in this NBA life that somehow it's brought to my attention as being more important than what's going on in the real world," he added. "It's just not happening for me. Again I respect everyone else's decision, I'm not gonna ever try to convince anyone or anything like that, I'm just staying rooted in what I believe in and though we're dealing with this right with Kev, I just know that I'm protected by the organization, I'm protected by my teammates, I'm protected all the doctors I've talked to, and I'm just staying rooted."
Nets coach Steve Nash was less concerned with Irving's vaccination status than he was ensuring that his point guard is in the best position to succeed. Nash wants to make sure that Irving ramps up at the proper pace after missing most of the first half of the season.
"I want Kyrie to have the space to regain his rhythm and not overburden him with, 'Now that Kevin's out, you have to take over and lead the league in scoring.' I want him to find his legs without feeling an extra burden," Nash said.
"He hasn't played for six-plus months, and coming back into the NBA game with little cadence and difficult practice opportunities, I think we have to give him that space to also find his rhythm without feeling overburdened or feeling too much pressure to do things too quickly. He already has shown his game's right there. And in no time, I think we'll see the Kyrie we all expect, but I don't want him to feel like he has to be that all at once."
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For the time being, Irving is limited to playing only certain road games due to a New York City vaccine mandate preventing him from playing home games at Barclays Center or road games at Madison Square Garden. Factoring in his inability to play in Toronto due to has unvaccinated status, Irving is severely limited in the number of games he can actually participate in this season. With the Nets in the middle of a stretch that includes quite a few road games, they should have Irving for most of the games they play without Durant, but the downside is that a home-heavy schedule late in the season will give Durant, Irving and Harden less time to get to know one another on the court.
But Irving is standing by his decision. No matter how it affects the Nets on or off of the court, he has made it clear that he does not plan to get vaccinated.