Kevin Durant said he's still envisioning Kyrie Irving being a part of the Nets' championship pursuit but he also acknowledges that it will be "hard to duplicate what he brings" if he can't play home games in Brooklyn.
Irving missed his second straight day of practice in Brooklyn as New York City's COVID-19 protocols only allow players with at least one vaccination shot to practice and play. As uncertainty increases each day surrounding the All-Star guard's vaccination status and whether he will be able to practice and play at home with the Nets, Durant said the Nets "are anxious to be a whole team" but that he also respects Irving's personal decision.
"I'm envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team," the star forward told reporters after Wednesday's practice when asked if the talented Nets have enough to cover Irving if the guard is not with the team for extended time. "Maybe I'm just naïve, but that is just how I feel. But I think everybody here has that confidence in themselves, in our group, that if we keep building, we can do something special."
Sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst that the Nets remain unclear on Irving's intentions to get vaccinated and that the organization has made no decision on whether it will accommodate him as a part-time player this season. There had been previous optimism that Irving would get vaccinated and meet local governmental mandates allowing him to practice and play in New York this season. But sources told Wojnarowski and Windhorst that hope is waning, and Irving's continued resistance to vaccination has the Nets preparing for the possibility that they'll be without him for home practices and games for the foreseeable future.
Head coach Steve Nash was asked if things have changed regarding the Nets' previous optimism that the city's vaccine mandate wouldn't be an issue by the start of the season and if they would have everyone good to go by then.
"I don't know, I can't answer that," Nash told reporters. "As it stands now, no. So we'll see what happens. I don't really want to speculate on something that is just currently up in the air."
Durant made it clear that Irving is vital for what the Nets want to accomplish this season. But he also wanted to give his point guard space on what Irving wants to do concerning getting at least one vaccination shot.
"He is dealing with something personal right now," Durant said. "And while he is dealing with that, we are going to focus on us here in the gym and keep working. When they are ready to figure that out, he'll figure it out.
"I mean he's a special player so it is going to be hard to duplicate what he brings," Durant added. "But professional sports are about the next man up mentality so we are looking forward to guys stepping up and filling in that role as best as they can."
Irving practiced with the Nets at their training camp in San Diego last week. The Nets currently are home where they play Milwaukee on Friday. They play at Philadelphia on Monday before finishing the preseason with another home game against Minnesota.
After the Nets open the regular season on the road at Milwaukee and Philadelphia, they will be at home for nearly two weeks during a six-game homestand.
"I want him a part of this group," Durant said. "He's a special player. We want him a part of this group. But a lot of stuff is out of our control and we will let him figure that out for himself. It doesn't mean that I will say that I don't want him on the team. He's a huge part of what we do but guys got to step up in his absence and be who they are and move forward."
Durant also said he wanted to steer away from getting involved in Irving's decision.
"I'm not really trying to get too involved in it," he said. "It's far bigger than myself and each one of us individually. This is one man's personal decision on his wellbeing so I got to sit back and observe and see what's happening and keep coming in here and practice every day and go hard every rep."
"No, I don't go out giving advice like that," Durant added of talking to Irving. "This is his decision, that's his choice, we all respect it, this is way bigger than hoops. I don't even feel comfortable talking to him about stuff like this. I am just here to support and come in here and do my job as one of the leaders on the team. And when things get figured out, I got trust and hope that it will get figured out."