NBA scout on Irving's return to Nets: 'Bigger impact than anything you’ll see at the trade deadline'

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  • Brooklyn Nets
    Brooklyn Nets
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  • Indiana Pacers
    Indiana Pacers
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  • Kyrie Irving
    Kyrie Irving
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Kyrie Irving mouth open white uniform no opponent
Kyrie Irving mouth open white uniform no opponent

“Bigger impact than anything you’ll see at the trade deadline.”

That’s how one opposing scout summed up their thoughts on Kyrie Irving after watching his debut with the Nets.

In his first NBA game in nearly six months, Irving had 22 points in 32 minutes in a win over the Indiana Pacers. As you’d expect, he looked a bit out of sync early on. But he seemed to get comfortable quickly, scoring 14 of his 22 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to help the Nets erase a 19-point deficit.

In one 19-second span in the fourth, Irving had a pull-up jumper, a steal, and another pull-up jumper. The sequence gave the Nets a five-point edge they wouldn’t relinquish in a road win.

“That’s how you play when you’re just elite at everything on the basketball court,” Kevin Durant said of Irving, who missed the first 35 games of the Nets’ season due to a team decision on his COVID-19 vaccination status.

Irving’s return makes the Nets' Big 3 whole again. It also changes the complexion of this NBA season, as the opposing scout referenced. We all saw what a healthy Irving, Durant, and James Harden look like during the Nets’ playoff series win over the Boston Celtics.

Brooklyn dominated the Celtics with Irving, Durant and Harden in the lineup.

The Nets couldn’t overcome injuries to Irving and Harden in their second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

And it seemed for a while that the club would have to overcome Irving’s absence for the entire 2021-22 season. Due to a local mayoral ordinance, Irving is ineligible to play home games at the Barclays Center because he hasn’t received a COVID-19 vaccination.

Before the start of the regular season, owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks decided that they didn’t want Irving to be a part-time player with the Nets. So they ruled that Irving would have to stay away from the team as long as he remained unvaccinated.

But Tsai and Marks changed their minds last month. With the Nets’ roster decimated by injuries and COVID-19-related absences, the club allowed Irving to return. Irving is eligible to play road games and practice at the team’s facility in Brooklyn. But he isn’t allowed to play home games.

So Irving’s next game with Brooklyn is on Monday at Portland.

Harden acknowledged that "it’s going to take some time" for everyone to get acclimated to Irving playing part-time.

“We have to get used to him being on the road and not at home, things like that. But we've been a resilient group all year and eventually [we'll] figure it out,” Harden said Wednesday. “Hopefully, he's able to play every single game. Home games and away games. But until then we'll figure it out, we'll keep pushing and find ways to come up with wins.”

The Nets snapped a three-game losing streak with Wednesday’s win. Now that Irving’s back, the wins should keep coming. Barring a significant trade by the the Philadelphia 76ers or Bucks, Irving’s return is the biggest roster move among Eastern Conference contenders.

One of the few remaining questions for the Nets -- will Irving eventually be able to play home games?

New York City may alter its mandate in the spring if the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decrease. Or maybe Irving changes his mind and decides to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He previously said that he was opposed to vaccine mandates. When asked on Tuesday if he would eventually get vaccinated, Irving said he’d address the issue later in the season.

“Man, I’m just taking it one day at a time. Like I said earlier in the season, it’s not an ideal situation,” Irving said. “And I’m always praying that things get figured out and we’re able to come to some collective agreement, whether it be with the league or just things that’s going on that can help ease what we’re all dealing with with COVID and the vaccine.

"I think everybody’s feeling it, so I don’t want to make it simply about me or simply about someone lessening the rules for me. I know what the consequences were. I still know what they are, but right now I’m just gonna take it one day at a time, like I said, and just enjoy this time that I get to play with my guys and however it looks later in the season, then we’ll address it then.”