Without having Kyrie Irving at practice all season, the Nets have no idea what kind of shape he’s in or how long it’ll take him to ramp up for game action.
But they’re convinced even as a part-time, road-only player he’ll make them better. And that includes even the best among them, like James Harden.
“Obviously, we all know how special of a talent Kyrie is and what he means to this organization and our team. So just to be around him even if it’s only for road games will be huge for us,” Harden said. “He obviously makes all our jobs a lot easier. But just having him around — and obviously he’s a very, very skilled basketball player — but just having his personality around the team now.”
Since arriving in Brooklyn last season, Harden has averaged 33.2 points, 10.4 assists and 9.4 boards in nine games without Irving or Kevin Durant. But with both stars stuck in health and safety protocols — and Irving yet to make his season debut — this team of jump shooters will benefit from Irving’s penetration.
“Once we get all the pieces, this is something that’s fun for us to enjoy and play how we want to play,” said Patty Mills, alluding to Irving’s drives unlocking defenses for the other shooters, Harden included.
“That helps James; another player out there to draw attention, to create space, to take pressure off him. Another ball-handler, another penetrator,” Steve Nash said. “A lot is thrown on James’ shoulders, because he’s one of the few guys on our team that really penetrates and gets to the paint. So Kyrie can help not only create space, make plays, take the burden off James but also share in that responsibility.
“[Harden’s] adapted well to the pressure of being our one guy that really penetrates constantly. But Kyrie can help him in that respect because he’s obviously an incredible player in getting to his spot and getting wherever he wants to go. So we’re excited to be able to incorporate Kyrie into our group.”
After Monday’s game against the Clippers in Los Angeles, the Nets have seven of their next nine at home, where Irving is ineligible due to his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine. His next chances to play are Jan. 5 at Indiana and Jan. 12 at Chicago.
Until then, he’ll be working to clear protocol and ramp up to game speed after not practicing with the team since camp.
“It’s really waiting for him to clear and then getting him in a program of regaining that fitness and basketball conditioning,” Nash said. “He’s obviously worked out and been on the court throughout his absence. But it’s different from being in a gym by yourself to playing an NBA game, so he’s got to go through that. … But he’s an incredible player and quick adapter — he’ll handle that pretty well.”
The Nets are signing Langston Galloway to another 10-day deal, according to The Athletic.