Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the Nets until he is eligible to become a full participant – either through vaccination or changing local mandates – it was announced on Tuesday. This raises the obvious question: What’s next for the Nets?
Over the years, the Nets have embraced a “next-man-up” mentality. So who is that man after all?
Chances are it’s more likely that men will be plural. Irving is, after all, a superstar, a rare member of the NBA’s 50-40-90 club that would be impossible for any one net to replicate.
“He’s a special player, so it’s going to be hard to copy what he brings in,” said Kevin Durant. “But professional sports are all about the ‘next-man-up’ mentality, so we’re hoping people will step up and fill that role as best they can.
“He’s a special player. We want him to be a part of this group. But a lot of things are out of our control, and we’ll let him figure it out for himself. That doesn’t mean I’ll say that to him.” Doesn’t want to be in the team. He is a big part of what we do. But people have to step up in his absence.”
Just because Nats are uniquely suited to suffer Irving’s losses — in the short term, in the long term or for good — doesn’t mean they want to deal with it. But Irving has put him in such a position.
The Nets signed Patty Mills as a free agent, acquiring the former Spur for a $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception deal. He is the prototypical sixth man, and can be kept apart from James Harden without Irving taking on the role of backup point guard.
Holdover Bruce Brown – retained for the qualifying offer – debuted in Philadelphia on Monday against Harden and may be head coach Steve Nash’s most logical choice. He is the Nets’ best perimeter defender, complements Harden well and has averaged 19.6 minutes in the preseason so far, with only Thursday’s game left.
Jevon Carter was acquired from Phoenix, which felt it was not a good enough distributor. But with Harden to fill that role and Mills as backup point guard, Carter has shown more skill than Nash expected. He’s an odd defender, shooting 40 percent from the deep in two years with the Suns and scoring 16 points in Philadelphia on Monday.
Despite his obvious offensive gifts, rookie Cam Thomas was having a hard time fitting into the rotation. But the first-round pick – who will turn 20 on Wednesday – could play a role as a microwave player off the bench if Irving doesn’t soften.