James Harden isn’t upset with Kyrie Irving’s continued absence, but the Nets superstar wouldn’t deny the obvious either: not having him for up to 43 games would limit the NBA Finals favorite’s ceiling.
“If he’s not on the court, yeah [it would hurt us], he’s one of our best players and one of our leaders,” Harden said after practice on Thursday.
Irving hasn’t been with the team since it returned from the West Coast, barred from playing or even practicing at home due to his refusal to comply with city vaccination mandates. He could miss up to 43 games – the Nets’ 41 home games and the two at the Garden against the Knicks.
On Wednesday, Kevin Durant said he wouldn’t pressure Irving to get the shot. Harden said the two haven’t spoken since the Nets returned to Brooklyn.
“I want him to be on the team, of course,” Harden said, when asked if he wanted Irving to get vaccinated. “He’s been a huge part since I’ve been here, a huge part of our success. The success we did have last year, we were kind of finding a rhythm, that chemistry that we’ve built. I can remember last year that one road trip we had, me and Kyrie. He’s just a special talent that you don’t really see often, so of course I would want him to be on the team. He’s one of the reasons why I came here.”
But Harden stopped short of criticizing Irving. He repeatedly said it’s important for the Nets to focus on what they can control, and not let anything distract them from the daily grind of training camp and preparing for the season.
“It’s not disappointing at all. It’s not disappointing,” he said. “Ky believes in what he believes in. His family is behind him, we’re behind him. That’s all that it is.”