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Unvaccinated Kyrie Irving returns to Nets in win over Pacers

This is bound to end well.

This is bound to end well.
Illustration: Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is back with the Nets but that doesn’t mean a fairy tale ending to the season is guaranteed

Irving made his long-awaited return to the court for the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers and played a significant role in their 129-121 victory. But with Irving wearing the label of part-time player as he remains unvaccinated and can’t play in New York City, I just don’t see how this scenario doesn’t end in disaster for the Nets.

Irving didn’t seem to have a lot of rust to shake off as he scored 22 points on 9 of 17 from the field in 32 minutes against Indiana. But after one game, he’s now going to miss the next two in Brooklyn when the Nets host Milwaukee then San Antonio. This is how it will be the rest of the season and however long the Nets play in the postseason.

Excluding Kevin Durant, I’m sure other players in that locker room are holding onto some type of resentment behind the team’s current situation. Irving is prepared to double-dutch, hoping in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season. Plenty of other players had reservations about the COVID-19 vaccination but decided to do what they felt was needed under the circumstances. Most of those players don’t possess the clout of Kyrie, nor do they cause the constant consternation that comes along with No. 11.

Nets head coach Steve Nash joked after the game about the first offensive play being drawn up for Kyrie as a “welcome back gift.” Nash won’t say this publicly, but I’d be willing to bet he’s been over the whole Kyrie Irving experience. I mean, you can even see a few more gray hairs popping up on coach’s head over the past year and change. And Irving never thought Brooklyn needed Nash or any coach to begin with.

The biggest test for the Nets, and this part-time player experiment, won’t come until the postseason. There will come a time when the Nets have a pivotal home game in a series that Irving can’t participate in. We’ll see how cool everyone is about all this at that point, especially if James Harden is still playing the way he has most of this year, as he’s shooting well below his normal percentages from the field and from three. Irving’s part-time status isn’t entirely unprecedented in the NBA, however. Terry Dischinger played part-time for the Chicago Zephyr’s (now the Washington Wizards) during the 1962-63 season. Different circumstances, but still a part-time player.

It may not seem like it to some, but this back-and-forth from the team thing with Irving is likely to catch up with Brooklyn at the most inopportune time. Imagine a Nets-Golden State Warriors NBA Finals in June. The unvaccinated Irving wouldn’t be able to play in a single game of that series unless something changes in either New York City or San Francisco by that time. But the Nets re-evaluated the situation and decided to go back on their initial decision to sit Irving down for the year. Now they’ve got no choice but to live with the consequences for better or worse.

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