Nets bringing Kyrie Irving off bench to open season? Steve Nash says ‘it’s possible’

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As the Brooklyn Nets face the specter of playing home games without Kyrie Irving this season, a more common question has also emerged: If the Nets do indeed have Irving for only half of their games, how will they use him in those games to both maximize his talents and minimize the disruption to the team when he is out? That is a storyline that will play out throughout 2021-22, but to start the season, an interesting compromise has emerged: using Irving as a sixth man. Nets coach Steve Nash called it a possibility on Sunday.

“It’s possible, yeah. We’ll see. We haven’t really got there yet. We’re still trying to process all of the possibilities. That might take us some time to see where his body’s at. No one’s ever done that before,” Nash said. “I wouldn’t know what precedents there are, and what’s the best way to do it. We’re really trying to navigate it as we go.”

As Nash himself says, this would be based on Irving’s conditioning. It almost certainly wouldn’t be a permanent move to the bench for Irving, but rather a way to get his body up to speed early in the season to make up for the time he has already missed. Both Kevin Durant and James Harden came off the bench in games last season after recovering from injuries. 

In basketball terms, there’s an argument to be made in favor of bringing Irving off the bench not just for the sake of conditioning, but for balance. Brooklyn has three shot-creating superstars. Not starting Irving would allow the Nets to stagger those shot-creators and ensure that they have two of them on the floor at all times. Realistically, it would never happen under normal circumstances, and those three play so many minutes that there would inevitably be periods with all of them on the floor, but if there is a way to ensure that they never have to play without at least two of them, Brooklyn’s offense would remain unstoppable for entire games. Again, it would never actually happen under normal circumstances, and nor should it. As interesting an experiment as it might be, superstars simply don’t spend extended periods as reserves. But it’s a fun hypothetical. 

The bigger question here is how Irving will be able to manage his conditioning while sitting out extended periods. The Nets open the season in Milwaukee and Philadelphia before returning to Brooklyn for a six-game homestand. Those two openers will likely help Irving, but will he lose those gains sitting out of home games? Is he at greater risk of injury by playing and then sitting for long periods? We just don’t know. As Nash says, this situation is unprecedented, and as such, the Nets are considering unprecedented solutions to this problem. 

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