Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will be able to practice at the team’s facility in Brooklyn, sources confirmed to ESPN, but still won’t be able to play in home games because of the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The change in Irving’s status is due to the city determining that the HSS Training Center, the Nets’ practice facility in Brooklyn, is a “private office building” as opposed to an indoor gym — one of the many indoor facilities that fall under the city’s vaccine mandate that went into effect last month.
“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, and obviously safety first,” Nets coach Steve Nash told reporters before Friday night’s preseason game in Brooklyn against the Milwaukee Bucks, the first matchup Irving was forced to miss this season due to the vaccine requirement. “Not going to have a huge risk of injury, but a lot to be worked through. We’re just getting information at the same time you guys are, so we’ll see [what happens].”
Irving hasn’t been with the team since the Nets returned from California, where they held training camp in San Diego before their preseason opener — in which Irving didn’t play — Sunday in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
“At least he can practice,” Kevin Durant told reporters when asked about Irving following the Nets’ preseason game against Milwaukee on Friday night. “But we want him here for the whole thing. We want him for games, home games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of it. So hopefully we can figure this thing out.”
New York City’s vaccine mandate, which says a person needs to have proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to enter, among other places, indoor gyms — including Barclays Center, the home of the Nets, and Madison Square Garden, the home of the Knicks — prevented Irving from taking part in the team’s media day. Irving instead joined that event, which was held on Sept. 27 at Barclays Center, via a Zoom call from his home.
The requirement also forced Irving to miss practice this week, which prompted Nash to be asked whether the Nets had considered moving their practice site to allow the star point guard to work out with them — an idea the coach dismissed.
But now that won’t be necessary, after Friday’s change in stance by the city to allow Irving to work out at the facility. The Nets are scheduled to have an open practice at Brooklyn Bridge Park Saturday afternoon, then have a practice at their facility Sunday before heading to Philadelphia for Monday’s game against the 76ers — the only time Irving can play, as of now, before the season opener on Oct. 19 in Milwaukee against the defending champion Bucks.
“I mean, I think all I would say is my first kind of thought is that it’s positive,” Nash said. “We have him around the team for a larger period of our season. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know. This [ruling] just came in. Is there another one coming? Is he going to be allowed to play at home at some point? Is he not going to be able to practice at our facility at some point?
“We are just following kind of the latest, and I don’t think anyone has been through this before. Obviously the pandemic has been new to everyone, but now we are in a position where the pandemic creates all these different new scenarios as well. I really don’t know what to say other than it is positive that he can now rejoin his teammates at our practice center and train, and it gives us more touch points with him and we will go from there.”
Asked about the potential for Irving playing Monday, and whether it was like checking in on an injured player to see where they’re at given the time Irving has spent away from the team, Nash agreed with the comparison.
“Yeah, more or less, because when someone is able to resume full activity on the court,” Nash said, they still need “a certain amount of high-intensity work before you’d put them in a game. I think even if you’re not injured you still have to reach those thresholds, and if you are injured once you are healthy, quote unquote, you have to reach those thresholds as well.”
The change in the city’s stance does nothing to affect Irving’s inability to play games in Brooklyn — or at Madison Square Garden for the two times a year the Nets will face the rival Knicks — which could cost him more than $17 million if he doesn’t comply with the mandate all season long.
But while the NBA and National Basketball Players Association have agreed that, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, anyone missing games without “reasonable cause” this season will give up 1/91.6th of their salary for every game that they miss, the union has not agreed that the mandate applies to Irving’s situation.
“They’ve been reporting that we’ve agreed that if a player who was not able to play because of his non-vaccination status, they could be docked [pay],” Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s executive director, told The New York Daily News earlier this week. “We did not agree. The league’s position is that they can. We’ll see.”
The Athletic first reported the news of New York’s change in stance on the Nets’ facility.
ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.
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