Kyrie Irving is back (back again). He is still unvaccinated and thus still cannot play in home games, but the Brooklyn Nets need his scoring ability after COVID ravaged the roster and James Harden was unrecognizable to start the season. After Irving went into health and safety protocols following the Nets' announcement that he would return, he started ramping up yesterday and the first opportunity he'll have to take the court will come on January 5, when Brooklyn visits Indiana to play the Pacers.
Putting aside the various off-court implications of the Nets caving to Irving like this, it will be very interesting to see if it will even work. The star point guard will be able to suit up for less than half of his team's remaining games, and those games are not evenly distributed, either. Will Irving be able to stay in a rhythm?
Nick Wright thinks not.
The Nets' schedule is very slanted towards home games in the last month of the year. On March 10, they'll play in Philadelphia against the Sixers. In the next 15 games, the Nets play at home 10 times. One of their away games in that stretch is against the Knicks, who obviously also play in New York and thus will deny Irving entry. So Irving will play in only four games in that last month, less than a third. Then Brooklyn will presumably make up the three games they had to postpone earlier in December, two of which are at home.
All that means that in the last 18 games of the year, Irving will, at most, appear in five. Then the playoffs will start less than a week later, possibly less depending on how the postponement scheduling shakes out. The Nets will absolutely have home-court advantage and therefore will play their first two games at home. There's a serious possibility that Irving won't play for a month-- from March 26, the last away game he can participate in during the regular season, to midway through April when the Nets head out of town for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series. And then he'll be expected to step on the court and play playoff-caliber basketball?
It does seem like a bit of a longshot that it'll work out. Irving is good enough that even if he can only play in short bursts off the bench he'll be a net positive, but playoff basketball is hard and the Nets learned last year how tenuous it can all be. Brooklyn wants all hands on deck, but Irving's lack of vaccine makes that impossible.
Some of Irving is better than none of Irving-- but that may not even prove to be true. When it's crunchtime and every single possession matters, is Irving going to be that much more effective than, say, Patty Mills? Or would the Nets rather roll with the guys who have been playing together all year? If they do, how will that make Irving feel?
We are walking upon untrodden territory. Nobody knows how this is going to work. It will, if anything, be fascinating to watch unfold.