Kyrie Irving's Return to Nets 'Best Decision for This Team,' GM Sean Marks Says

Erin WalshDecember 19, 2021

MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 13: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during Round 2, Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 13 2021 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images).
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

After announcing Friday that Kyrie Irving would begin the process of returning to the team, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks explained his decision to allow the star point guard back despite remaining unvaccinated.

"I think our objective here is to win," Marks told reporters of the change in thinking. "Our objective from an organization, from a team, from the GM from the coach from the players, everyone knows what they're here is to win basketball games. And at the end of the day, we're sitting here faced with a roster that has been decimated over the course of the last several days. And I'm forced to make decisions and I don't make those decisions by myself ... but in essence this is the best decision for this team at this juncture right now with what we're dealing with."

The Nets initially decided before the 2021-22 season began that Irving wouldn't be allowed to practice or play with the team until he complied with New York City's COVID-19 vaccination policy for indoor arenas.

While Marks explained the decision, head coach Steve Nash talked about the risk of bringing back an unvaccinated player.

"It's something to consider," Nash said. "Having said that, he's a young man in great health. ... The odds of him having something catastrophic happen are small. But yeah, this virus concerns me in every corner and aspect of its short life so far. That's a concern, but it's also a concern for the vaccinated. So it's just something we're having to live with in our world these days. And so we'll proceed and do the best we can to protect and care for everyone."

Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic reported Friday that Irving is working toward a return and has begun daily COVID-19 testing. However, it's unclear when he will make his season debut as he was placed in the NBA's health and safety protocols Saturday, which should undoubtedly delay his ramp-up.

It's not necessarily surprising that Marks and Co. changed their minds this early in the season. With 10 players in COVID-19 protocols, including Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets need all the help they can get moving forward.

In addition, both Durant and Harden are playing heavy minutes, which is definitely taxing and something Nash can't continue to have happen as the season continues. Durant is averaging 37 minutes per game at 33 years old, which is the most time he's seen on the court since the 2013-14 campaign when he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

However, Durant told reporters earlier this month that he doesn't mind playing heavy minutes.

"I'm a basketball player. I want to play 48 minutes. That's just what it is," Durant said. "It's a conversation to have [by fans and media]—I'm playing more minutes and I'm coming off an injury and all this other stuff. But I like to play, and if I can convince coach to play me the whole second half sometimes, I'm going to do it. My basketball life is not that long, so I'm going to get the most out of it ... I like being out there."

Harden, who is playing 36.2 minutes per night, is also capable of playing big minutes as he's averaged at least 35.0 minutes per game since the 2012-13 season, though much like Durant, he's getting up there in age at 32.

Irving is also just an asset for the Nets. In 54 games last season, he 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.

The Nets entered Saturday's game against the Orlando Magic with a 21-8 record, the best in the Eastern Conference. Once Irving returns, Brooklyn will be even more difficult to play against.