Kyrie Irving has begun the process to return to the Brooklyn Nets, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Irving has begun COVID testing and is beginning to ramp up, but his exact return date is still undetermined. Irving will return to the Nets as a part-time player, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Irving has not yet played this season due to a vaccine mandate in New York City. That mandate prevents Knicks and Nets players from participating in home games as long as they are unvaccinated, which Irving is. Irving is returning to the Nets without a vaccination, so he will only be able to participate in road games. The Nets are currently 21-8 and hold the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but have lost a number of players to the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
A previous ruling in New York City would have allowed Irving to practice with the team, as the Nets’ practice facility is a private office building, but the mandate does not afford the same status to Barclays Center, which means that without a vaccine, Irving cannot play in home games or road games at Madison Square Garden, specifically. The Nets chose not to allow Irving to stay with the team as a part-time player in the early portion of the season, but with Kevin Durant and James Harden taking on enormous workloads and several players now absent due to COVID-19, the Nets have seemingly determined that some Irving is better than none.
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With 14 road games in the books, the Nets have 27 road games left on their schedule. Two of those games are at Madison Square Garden, though, so Irving would be eligible for a maximum of 25 games this season without a vaccine. As a top seed, Irving could be limited to just three out of the seven games the Nets play against a given opponent in the postseason.
Bringing Irving back under such circumstances will present some issues to the Nets. They’ll have to change their game-plan and rotation frequently. They’ll have a weaker roster at home as well. But with no end in sight to the problems plaguing both the Nets and the NBA this season, Brooklyn determined that this was the best course of action.