Kyrie Irving’s return gives Nets two distinct squads

Steve Nash understandably did not want to look too far ahead.

“In our league and with our team,” the Nets coach said Wednesday, “once you start conceiving of things, everything changes the next day.”

Still, the Nets’ lineups — plural — soon will look much different.

When Kyrie Irving returns as a part-time player, perhaps Jan. 5 at Indiana or maybe Jan. 12 at Chicago, the Nets essentially will have two separate teams, one on the road with Irving and one at home without him.

Nash said he could foresee, say, Patty Mills starting at home and coming off the bench away from Barclays Center. He spoke about the need for “flexibility” and “buy in” from players who will have to sacrifice playing time they have become accustomed to.

The unvaccinated Irving will play a little less than half the time because of New York City’s mandate, and Joe Harris is expected back in the coming weeks. Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, cleared from the protocols, are expected back Thursday, when the Nets host the 76ers at Barclays Center.

Patty Mills and Kyrie Irving
Getty Images; Brooklyn Nets

When everyone is healthy, what will the lineups look like?

“There’s a lot of tough decisions here,” Nash said after practice in Brooklyn, the first with Irving. “Sometimes the decision doesn’t fall your way, but you’ve got to stick with it with the bigger picture in mind. I think our group understands that.”

Rookies such as Cam Thomas (who is out of the protocols), Kessler Edwards (still in the protocols) and David Duke Jr. (in the protocols) will see reduced minutes and possibly more G-League time.

“They got their opportunity during the COVID situation and all played really well,” Nash said. “So I think it just solidified what we believed — that they’re there and they’re capable and they can be a part of this. But at the same time, they’re developing players still.… We don’t want to stunt their growth by having them around and not playing them or overplaying them.”

The Nets have had 12 starting lineups amid the lack of Irving and the coronavirus outbreak. When the point guard is back, he could join a road lineup of Durant, James Harden, Aldridge and Harris or Mills.

Perhaps Nic Claxton would bounce out Aldridge. But players such as DeAndre’ Bembry, who had moved into the starting five, likely will be demoted. Bembry sounds OK with that.

“Why not have somebody like Kyrie on the road? Check his dynamics offensively and defensively — you can’t really go wrong with having Kyrie out there,” Bembry said, who attended the same high school (now called the Patrick School) as Irving. “For the most part, it can only help us.”

It will help, too, that Durant’s and Harden’s minutes will take a dip, and Nash suggested they could take games off when needed. There will not be much flow to the Nets’ rotations, but they believe the firepower will compensate.

“You can’t play everyone,” Nash said. “Trying to figure out lineups, all those variables, home and away and all that stuff. Great. Let’s take it head-on, and let’s try to make the most of it.”

Harris underwent ankle surgery Nov. 29, and his agent originally estimated a layoff of four to eight weeks. A little more than four weeks later, Harris needs more time. Nash said the shooting guard is shooting and doing conditioning work.

“He’s not necessarily out of the woods yet,” Nash said. “He’s got some work to do.”


The Nets signed guard Shaquille Harrison to a second 10-day contract. Harris has appeared in two games and averaged two points, two rebounds and 1.5 assists in 11.3 minutes per game.