With Kyrie Irving’s long injury history — and he’s already sat far more than he’s played in his debut season in Brooklyn — the Nets aren’t taking any chances with his health. Or anything for granted with his return.
Irving has missed the past five games with a sprained knee. But even with the benefit of an extra week off for the All-Star break, the Nets won’t commit to the point guard being ready to play when they return to action on Feb. 20 in Philadelphia.
“I think we’ll wait until we come back to make that decision. There’s a lot of days and I don’t want to go out and say something that I would regret later,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “There’s obviously a lot of days in between, and we’ll see. When we get back, those first couple practices will determine where he is.”
Treating Irving with kid gloves is wise. Brooklyn committed a four-year max contract to him, and he’s missed 165 regular-season games in his NBA career, including 33 already in his Nets debut season. In his one collegiate season at Duke, he suffered a toe injury and played in just 11 of 37.
Irving has topped 60 games just three times in his nine-year NBA career — a big reason the Nets inserted a bonus for that threshold in his contract — and he won’t come close to that figure this season.
A facial fracture cost Irving much of camp. He’s already missed 26 games with a shoulder impingement, a Jan. 20 game versus the 76ers with hamstring woes and a game against the Knicks six days later mourning the death of friend Kobe Bryant. Now it’s five and counting with the knee.
“He’s itching for sure, man. But we need him healthy, ultimately,” DeAndre Jordan said. “We can’t have him come out and be 75 percent, 80 percent for us, because we’re looking at things down the line, too. We can’t sacrifice him coming out too early and, universe forbid, something happens. We want him to be ready to go whenever he comes back.”
Jordan, who has been friends with Irving and Kevin Durant since winning 2016 Olympic gold together, is preaching patience, as are the Nets.
Irving has admitted he injured his shoulder by overworking it at the start of the season. And he hurt it Nov. 4 in New Orleans and aggravated it by playing four more games over the next 10 days. The result was him missing two months, not returning until Jan. 12.
“You’ve got to be mature about it. You can’t be silly, rush somebody back,” Jordan said. “Because we’ve seen how that can not work in a team’s favor, and a player’s favor more so. So I feel like we have guys who are able to step it up and have that next-guy-up mentality. We’ll hold down the fort until Ky gets back, and that goes the same with [Durant].”
Much has been made about Durant coming back from injury to play Game 5 of last year’s NBA Finals and promptly rupturing his Achilles tendon. Durant and the Nets have insisted he won’t play this season. But Jordan said that’s no excuse to use this as a gap year.
“Yeah, we’re not coming out, ‘Oh, KD’s not healthy so we can play like [garbage] this year.’ That would be disrespectful to every other player in this locker room,” said Jordan. “That’s not what we’re about.
“So whenever those guys are back healthy then they’re going to help lead us. But we’re excited about the guys we have here now and the guys helping us play well this season. That’s all you can ask for.”
Credit: Source link