Kyrie Irving enters NBA health and safety protocols a day after Nets said he would return

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving entered the NBA's health and safety protocols less than 24 hours after the team announced his return. The Nets announced Irving was placed in protocols Saturday, a day after the team said it would allow Irving to play again.

Irving, 29, has sat out the season due to his vaccination status. Irving has not received a COVID-19 vaccine. Due to New York's COVID-19 policy, Irving is not allowed to play home games. The Nets could have used Irving strictly on the road, but the team opted to play without him to start the season.

That changed Friday, when the team decided to bring back Irving in the midst of a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak.

Nets GM defends decision to bring Kyrie Irving back

Nets general manager Sean Marks defended the decision to bring Irving back on Saturday afternoon.

"Several months ago, we made a decision that was based around what was best for the team," Marks said, via CBS Sports. "What was best for the team at that point was continuity. And I think we all see that continuity right now over the course of the last week and whatever the future looks like may be out of the window for a while, and we're going to navigate that as best we can."

Marks said that "everybody was on board" with the move to allow Irving to return, though he's not sure when that will actually be yet — especially considering that he's now in health and safety protocols.

With a team-wide outbreak and several players out due to injury, Marks felt like he needed Irving.

"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," Marks said, via CBS Sports. "And I'm forced to make decisions, and I don't make those decisions by myself — we collaborate, like I mentioned before — but in essence, this is the best decision for this team at this juncture right now, with what we're dealing with."

Coach Steve Nash understood why they didn't let Irving play earlier in the season, as their goal was to keep the roster consistent from game to game. A part-time player would undoubtedly throw that off to some degree.

But now, with so many players in Brooklyn and across the league dealing with outbreaks, Nash didn't see a point in trying to preserve that any longer.

"No matter what capacity we incorporate him in, it's a positive for our group," Nash said, via CBS Sports. "And knowing that we first struck the decision not to have him with us for continuity at the onset of a season, and, frankly, continuity has been thrown out the window with COVID and injuries and whatnot, I think it's important for us to use all the resources we have to navigate the season. And we're putting an extra strain on a lot of our guys."

Nets place Kevin Durant in health and safety protocols

The Nets placed seven players in the NBA's health and safety protocols between Tuesday and Friday. With a number of players out, the Nets announced they would welcome Irving back. The Nets were reportedly fine with Irving only playing in road games as the team deals with its outbreak. The team did not provide a timeline for Irving's return.

That outbreak got worse Saturday, as star Kevin Durant was placed in the NBA's health and safety protocols. An hour later, the team announced Irving was also placed in the protocols and then added Day'Ron Sharpe on Saturday night, bringing the Nets' total number of players sidelined to 10.

The Nets will reportedly sign forward Wenyen Gabriel to a 10-day hardship exemption to cover those losses, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

It's unclear whether being placed in the protocols will delay Irving's season debut. It was assumed he would need some time to get into game shape after sitting out.

At 21-8, the Nets sit in the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The team is still scheduled to take on the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Kyrie Irving with the Nets.
Kyrie Irving was placed in NBA health and safety protocols Saturday. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)