Brooklyn Nets to bring back Kyrie Irving for road games outside New York, Toronto

The Brooklyn Nets are bringing back All-Star guard Kyrie Irving as a part-time player for games outside of New York and Toronto, the team announced Friday.

Irving, who has been unwilling to satisfy New York City mandates and become vaccinated to play in home games or road games at Madison Square Garden, will be eligible to play in select road games once he is able to pass a series of COVID-19 tests and get back into shape, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The unfolding circumstances of Brooklyn's season -- injuries, seven players including James Harden lost to health and safety protocols and an inordinate minutes load on Kevin Durant, who won't play Saturday against the Orlando Magic due to right ankle soreness -- led the team to the move.

"We arrived at this decision with the full support of our players and after careful consideration of our current circumstances, including players missing games due to injuries and health and safety protocols," general manager Sean Marks said in a statement. "We believe that the addition of Kyrie will not only make us a better team but allow us to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster.

"We look forward to Kyrie's return to the lineup, as well as getting our entire roster back together on the court."

The point guard's return isn't expected to happen quickly. Irving has to test negative on five successive days before he can rejoin the Nets. Once he returns, he must test every day as an unvaccinated player.

New York City's mandate allows Irving to practice at home, and the Nets agreed with Irving on a plan that would allow him to start ramping back up for a return, sources said.

The team's next road game is Dec. 23 against Portland Trail Blazers, followed by a Christmas Day matchup at the Los Angeles Lakers and a Dec. 27 contest at the LA Clippers. That stretch is followed by three home games.

The Nets have 27 road games remaining, but two are at Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, where Irving would not be able to play until he complies with the city's mandate. He also is currently ineligible to play March 1 at Toronto, as travel for unvaccinated players across the Canadian border will be prohibited starting in January. Brooklyn (21-8) has 26 homes games remaining.

Still, having Irving back for road games is something Nets owner Joe Tsai, Marks, coach Steve Nash and key players fully supported -- and Irving has been eager to get back as well, sources said. Irving, who last practiced regularly with the team during the first week of training camp in San Diego in late September and early October, can start practicing at the team facility, though it remains to be seen when he will be able to do so with his teammates.

The team might not have a full practice for some time because of the schedule and the number of players in health and safety protocols. The Nets start a home back-to-back stint Saturday against Orlando before playing Denver on Sunday. Monday is a scheduled day off. They play the Washington Wizards at home on Tuesday then are scheduled to fly to Portland on Wednesday before facing the Trail Blazers on Thursday.

The circumstances have changed dramatically for the Nets since Tsai, Marks and the team made a collaborative decision Oct. 12 to not have Irving be a part-time player.

Harden missed the past three games. Meanwhile, Durant is averaging 41.1 minutes in his past nine games and will be held out Saturday to rest the ankle. Patty Mills also will rest.

"It's a really important topic," Nash said of Durant's playing time before Brooklyn beat the Philadelphia 76ers 114-105 at Barclays Center on Thursday night. "I don't know we can continue to lean on him the way we have. It doesn't feel right."

Nash later added: "It's not safe or sustainable to lean on him like that. There's gonna be a lot of consideration, and we'll have to figure out ways to give him breaks."

In addition to Durant and Mills resting, seven Nets are in the protocols: Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter, James Johnson and Paul Millsap. Sharpshooter Joe Harris has been out as well due to left ankle surgery, and center Nic Claxton is questionable with left wrist soreness.