Kyrie Irving is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers – but can the seven-time All Star’s return help the Brooklyn Nets win an NBA championship?
Irving, who is unvaccinated against Covid-19, has re-joined the Nets on a part-time basis, after the team – struggling with coronavirus cases and injuries – back-tracked on their original stance that he would not feature until he could play in all games.
Unable to take part in home games due to New York’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates, the 29-year-old is expected to compete in most road contests – except against the New York Knicks and also the Toronto Raptors, due to Ontario regulations.
The Nets, led by Kevin Durant and James Harden, have maintained an impressive 23-12 record without Irving to sit second in the Eastern Conference.
Sky Sports Heatcheck’s Mo Mooncey believes Irving’s return catapults the Nets into championship contention.
“They’ve been holding the ship together without Kyrie Irving,” Mooncey said. “But bear in mind Kevin Durant has come off the Achilles surgery and then played the Olympics, Kyrie coming back will give him a little bit more time on the bench, a little bit more of a rest, a little bit less pressure.
“For James Harden, he’s struggled coming into the season, he’s picked up his form recently, but now, adding Kyrie Irving, it’s going to stop the defences focusing on Harden when KD is resting and they’re staggering those line-ups.
“So I’m liking what I’m seeing. I think not only is it good for Kyrie to be back on the court, it’s going to help his team-mates.”
Mooncey believes that the returning Irving could have a similar impact to that of Kawhi Leonard during his sole season with the Toronto Raptors, who won a championship despite the forward missing a significant amount of games for load management purposes.
“It reminds me kind of, it’s not the same situation, but when Kawhi Leonard was with the Toronto Raptors and he was doing his load management. He still slotted in nicely whenever he stepped back into the line-up, and a player of Kyrie’s calibre and talent, I think he’s going to make the game easier for his team-mates.
“It’s going to be a show, it’s going to be must-see, Kyrie Irving back on the basketball court, I didn’t think it would happen this season, but I can’t wait.”
However, three-time NBA champion Armstrong is less convinced, and believes the fact Irving won’t be able to spend time with his team in New York could negatively impact their cohesiveness.
“This part-time move, because that’s basically what it is, is going to be very tough to implement,” Armstrong said.
“This is going to be tough because they still have to play games at home, and this would imply that Kyrie will not be there at home.
“I’m happy that he’s back, I’m happy he’s playing but I really think it’s going to be tough for him to make that type of impact we’re expecting when we’re talking about Brooklyn Nets.
“Right now for the Nets, it’s championship or bust, and I don’t think him playing every other game, or just away games is going to be enough to push this team over the top.”
‘Nets may not want homecourt advantage’
Mooncey also suggested that the situation may make the Nets more comfortable with missing out on homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
The seven-game playoff series format would mean that Irving would be available in more games – four as opposed to three – if the Nets were the lower-seeded team.
“What we might see from the Brooklyn Nets is a unique situation,” Mooncey said. “It might be the first time ever that a team doesn’t want home court when it comes to the play-offs.
“In the modern NBA, I don’t think homecourt is as advantageous as it used to be.
“I would rather be on the road with Kyrie Irving, than at home without Kyrie Irving.
“You want to have him out there for a game 7, he turns up in game sevens, that’s what he does.”