Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has begun the process to return to the Nets, the team announced on Friday.
Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium previously reported Irving is "is ramping up" and "has begun team COVID-19 testing." However, it's unclear when he will make his 2021-22 season debut. Irving will reportedly play in Brooklyn's road games and practice at home with the team, per Charania.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski added that Irving has been unwilling to meet New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandates to play in home games but that "the turbulence of the ongoing NBA season has caused the organization to reconsider their preseason decision to fully sideline" him.
Irving's return "isn't expected quickly," per Woj. He has to pass multiple COVID-19 tests before being cleared to work out with the team, and the Nets aren't sure what type of shape he's in. He's expected to gradually ramp up to full basketball activities.
Before the season began, the Nets decided that Irving wouldn't be allowed to practice or play with the team until he complied with New York's COVID-19 vaccination rules for indoor arenas. They didn't want him to just be a part-time player. He has not played since a June 13 playoff matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Brooklyn has done well despite the seven-time All-Star's absence. The Nets own a 21-8 record, the best in the Eastern Conference, and hold a 2.5-game lead over the second-place Milwaukee Bucks.
However, giving heavy minutes to both Durant and Harden isn't sustainable in the long run. Durant is playing some of the best basketball of his career, though he's averaging 37.0 minutes per game at 33 years old, which is the most time he's seen on the court since the 2013-14 campaign. The 11-time All-Star also missed all of 2019-20 while rehabbing an Achilles injury.
Harden, meanwhile, is averaging 36.2 minutes per night. The three-time scoring champion is used to playing heavy minutes, as he's averaged at least 35 minutes per game since the 2012-13 season, but he's in his age-32 season.
The Nets are also a better team when Irving is on the court. With Brooklyn having a legitimate shot at winning the NBA title this season, it's not surprising that the franchise has decided to allow him to play.
In 54 games last season, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game while shooting a career-best 50.6 percent from the field, in addition to 40.2 percent from deep.