Brooklyn Nets believe return of 'elite' Kyrie Irving as part-time player won't affect continuity

NEW YORK -- As the Brooklyn Nets prepare for the return of Kyrie Irving, they do so believing that Irving's status as a part-time player, who only plays on the road, will not affect their continuity.

"Have you watched him play?" Nets star Kevin Durant said after Thursday's 110-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. "He's a master. He can score 60%, 70% of his shots if you don't guard him. He's a high IQ player. It's just a matter of him getting his legs up under him and his wind up under him. And then for us we're going to run plays for him, we'll try to look for him. We play team basketball -- but he can adapt and do anything out there so we're not worried about him."

Irving, who is not vaccinated for COVID-19, hasn't played all season because of the Nets decision prior to the regular season not to allow him to participate due to New York's vaccine mandate. He practiced with the team Wednesday after the organization reversed course earlier this month after a variety of injuries and COVID-related issues pushed them to allow Irving to participate in road games. Nets guard James Harden was succinct in his assessment of how Irving looked after so much time away from the group.

"Like Kyrie," Harden said. "Elite."

Durant echoed a similar sentiment about the All-Star guard.

"He looked great," Durant said. "He looked great. I know he wants to probably play a little bit more before he gets into game situations, but he looked great to me."

While it remains unclear exactly when Irving will make his debut, the most likely options are Jan. 5 at Indiana or Jan. 12 against the Chicago Bulls. Prior to Thursday's game, Nets coach Steve Nash said he hasn't discussed the possibility of a change in vaccination status with Irving since initial conversations in the preseason. Nash remains outwardly confident that Irving's role as a part-time player won't impact the Nets much whenever the 29-year-old plays again.

"I may be a little naive but I think I just keep it really simple," Nash said. "Kyrie plays on the road and we figure out how he rejoins the group, finds his rhythm, and his place in the team and when we come home we're back to normal, the way we've been all year so I'm just trying to keep it really simple"

"Don't over analyze it or complicate it, try to enjoy it and try to put him in a position to succeed and to enjoy what he's doing and then the positives of having him back can be high and that also can have an effect hopefully on us when he's not in the lineup and guys are not having as much of a burden in every single game."

After not seeing him for a few months, several of Irving's teammates noted how good it was to see him back with the group and on the floor during Wednesday's practice. Veteran guard Patty Mills called it "a feel good moment."

"Same Kyrie," Harden said. "Just happy to have him back. We got to get him on the court and get this thing going."