NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving will be able to practice in New York City without getting vaccinated against COVID-19, as first reported by The Athletic. Irving has not participated in any of the Nets practices since they returned from training camp in San Diego last week, but going forward the practice facility will be considered a private office building, allowing him to return to work in Brooklyn on non-game days.
“My first thought is that it’s positive,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We have him around the team for a larger period of our season, and we’ll see what happens.”
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Nash said this shortly before Brooklyn’s preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, its first at Barclays Center. Irving was barred from playing in the game or even being in the arena, per city regulations, and there is no indication that this is about to change. Nash said he thinks Irving will “likely” be with the team for the Nets’ open practice at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday, and it is “hopefully even more likely” that he will rejoin his teammates for Sunday’s practice. He is eligible to play when Brooklyn visits the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, but he will not necessarily be in uniform.
“It sounds like we may have Kyrie on the road with us, but I’m not sure he’ll be playing since we haven’t seen him for a week,” Nash said. “And, obviously, safety first. We’ll make sure he’s not at huge risk of injury. But a lot to be worked through. I mean, we’re just kind of getting information at the same time you guys are, so we’ll see.”
Brooklyn’s Joe Harris said that Irving’s return to practice will be a “huge boost.”
“At least he can practice, Nets forward Kevin Durant said. “But, I mean, we want him here for the whole thing. We want him here for games, home games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of it, so hopefully we figure this thing out.”
Earlier this week, ESPN reported that the Nets were losing hope that Irving would get vaccinated before the start of the season. Prior to this new ruling, that meant Irving would effectively be separated from the team for long stretches, including a six-game homestand near the beginning of the regular season, if he does not get vaccinated. That is no longer the case.
“We look forward to having him,” Nash said.
In this case, “having him” does not mean “having him all the time.” If Irving doesn’t get vaccinated, he can only be a part-time player, as he will have to miss their 41 games at Barclays Center and two at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t know exactly what the plan is going forward right now,” Durant said. “I’m sure they’re still making decisions.”
Irving participated in training camp in San Diego, but didn’t talk to the media. He hasn’t spoken to reporters since pleading for privacy and declining to address his vaccination status or eligibility in a virtual appearance at Nets at media day on Sep. 28.
“As of right now, just please respect my privacy regarding anything on home games, what’s happening, vaccination,” Irving said then. “Please.”
The NBA regular season begins on Oct. 19 with a matchup between the defending-champion Bucks and Nets in Milwaukee. Irving will be allowed to play regardless of whether or not he’s vaccinated by then, but the same is not true of Brooklyn’s home opener against the Charlotte Hornets on Oct. 24.
“I really don’t know what to say other than it’s positive that he can now rejoin his teammates in our practice center and train,” Nash said. “And it gives us more touchpoints with him. And we’ll go from there.”