More than two weeks after the last time he was seen in a Nets uniform, Kyrie Irving is once again ready to take the floor.
Irving is back with Brooklyn after a mysterious absence that left fans and media members wondering why the six-time All-Star wasn’t alongside his teammates for a stretch of seven consecutive games. Now that Irving appears to be on track to play, the challenge will be developing chemistry with Kevin Durant and James Harden, who was traded from the Rockets to the Nets last week and has gotten off to an electric start with his new squad.
What is Brooklyn’s plan with Irving? And why was he gone for an extended period?
Here’s what we know about Irving’s status.
Is Kyrie Irving playing tonight?
Nets coach Steve Nash said Irving went through a full practice with the team and is expected to play Wednesday against the Cavaliers. Irving is not currently listed on Brooklyn’s injury report.
“It was great to have Ky back in the building, back in with the group,” Nash said Tuesday. “We missed him. Excited to get him back out there on the floor. We were able to, like I keep saying, script and rehearse, but it’s hard to build chemistry without playing. And we’re not playing in practice.
“So the chemistry is going to be formed on the floor during games. It’s gonna take some time, but we’re excited about the possibilities.”
Kyrie Irving discusses his absence
The Nets listed Irving as out for “personal reasons” on injury reports from Jan. 7 through Jan. 13 and used the “health and safety protocols” designation from Jan. 16 through Jan. 18 after the NBA determined he had violated COVID-19 guidelines by attending a private indoor party. Irving was fined $50,000 and forced to forfeit salary for the two games he missed during his five-day quarantine period.
In his first media availability since he rejoined the team, Irving said he had a lot of “family and personal stuff going on” but declined to offer any more details on why he initially missed games.
“When things become overwhelming in life, you just gotta take a step back and realize what’s important,” Irving said Tuesday. “I love to play. That’s never been a question. I committed myself when this wasn’t even a thing for me. I didn’t really care about media, didn’t really care about the fandom. All I cared about was just the ethics of the game and being taught the fundamentals. Now that it’s become bigger, and there’s more of a responsibility that I have in this position I’m in, I’m grateful because I’m able to stand on this platform with others alongside of me that have sacrificed and are going through similar things.
“So, I’m not alone in this. That’s just a big thing about also mental health, just coming in and being balanced with yourself first and then being able to perform. With everything going on in the world politically, socially, like I said, it’s hard to ignore. I want to make changes daily. There are so many oppressed communities, so many things going on that are bigger than just a ball going in the rim.”
“I want to make changes daily. There are so many oppressed communities and so many things going on that are bigger than a ball going in the rim”
Kyrie Irving speaks on mental health, along with the political and social environment in America: pic.twitter.com/7UebJABzMm
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) January 19, 2021
Irving added that he addressed his teammates and took full accountability for his absence.
Kyrie Irving apologizes to fans he disappointed by not playing. “I am back, I am happy to be back, we got some great pieces and we move on and I let my actions and my game speak for itself like I planned on doing. I just needed a pause.”
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) January 19, 2021
When asked whether he was aware that he had violated health and safety protocols, Irving didn’t directly answer the question, only saying he was “happy to be back.”
Nets’ potential starting lineup with Kyrie Irving
In Brooklyn’s first two games following the Harden trade, Nash started Harden and Durant alongside Joe Harris, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan. Green seems to be the obvious candidate to send to the bench, which would leave the Nets with this starting five:
- Kyrie Irving
- James Harden
- Joe Harris
- Kevin Durant
- DeAndre Jordan
Adding Irving to the lineup should only make the Nets more difficult to defend, as he is averaging 27.1 points and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range. There will be questions about Brooklyn’s defense and whether the new “Big Three” can figure out the best way to work together, but the talent level here is scary.
It will be fascinating to watch how the Nets’ grand experiment plays out.