Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash isn't relying on the return of Kyrie Irving at any point this season.
"We just focus on our group and getting better every single day, and if we get the gift of his return, we'll be ecstatic, but we can't count on it," he told reporters. "We can't wait for him. We have to get to work and get better."
Irving has not played a game this season because he remains unvaccinated against COVID-19. New York City regulations do not allow him to play home games, and the Nets have established that he can't be a part-time player who only appears in road contests.
It is a testament to the team Brooklyn built that it still has the best record in the Eastern Conference at 16-7.
Kevin Durant has been brilliant as an MVP candidate, averaging 28.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three-point range.
Meanwhile, James Harden is a triple-double threat whenever he steps on the floor, and veterans such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills have provided a much-needed boost in the absence of the team's third star.
Still, the Nets would go from contenders to clear-cut championship favorites if Irving did get vaccinated and returned to the floor.
After all, he is a seven-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection who can take over a game with his shooting prowess and ability to get into the lane with his ball-handling. He made one of the most famous shots in NBA history in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to help lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship and is a playoff-tested guard capable of elevating an already fearsome Brooklyn squad.
Alas, the Nets are clearly not counting on a dramatic return this season, even if it would shake up the Eastern Conference race.