NEW YORK – Kyrie Irving's return to the Brooklyn Nets is starting with a trip to the NBA's health and safety protocols — and Kevin Durant is joining him.
The Nets' outbreak worsened Saturday when they announced both stars were in protocols, giving them a league-high 10 players on the injury report for that reason.
“These are unforeseen circumstances and I hate to say it, it’s almost like we’ve gone back to six months, a year ago unfortunately with the cases rising,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said.
Durant already was scheduled for a night off to rest Saturday against Orlando on the opening night of a back-to-back. Instead, he became ineligible to play anyway when he was added to the injury report.
The Nets decided Friday that Irving would rejoin them for practices and road games, though he remains ineligible to play at home because he hasn't met New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for athletes playing in the city's public venues.
The Nets determined before the season that Irving wouldn't be a part-time player and wouldn't be with the team unless he could play in all their games. But concerned with the heavy burden Durant has faced — his 37 minutes per game are second in the league — and needing to add a body while they keep losing them, they said the point guard would be back.
“Several months ago we made a decision that was based around what was best for the team," Marks said. "What was best for the team at that point was continuity and I think we all see that continuity right now over the course of the last week and whatever the future looks like maybe out the window for a while, and we've got to navigate that as best we can.”
Irving first needed to get tested to be cleared to play and apparently he either tested positive or had an inconclusive result. The Nets also acknowledged the risk of bringing Irving back at this time, with Marks saying he hadn't spoken to him about whether he intended to get vaccinated.
“There's also a risk for Kyrie when a guy comes in and if they’re not vaccinated,” Marks said. “I don’t want to get into those type of discussions but that’s a risk for him coming into this environment, not just the team and so forth. But we’re all well aware of the status and his status and moving forward and how we’ll navigate this as best we can.”
James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter, Paul Millsap, James Johnson and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe all are listed as out because of the protocols.
Needing to have eight players to start a game, the Nets scrapped their plan to rest Patty Mills and said he would be available. They also signed swingman James Ennis III and guard Shaquille Harrison to 10-day contracts.
Elsewhere, Chicago previously had 10 players in health and safety protocols, causing two of their games this week to be postponed. Three of them were cleared as of Friday, putting the Bulls on track to resume Sunday against the Lakers.
Brooklyn's woes make Orlando's seem minor. The Magic still have five players out for protocols.
Also Saturday, Cavaliers rookie forward Evan Mobley entered health and safety protocols.
Mobley has been a major reason for Cleveland's unexpected and surprising start this season. The No. 3 overall draft pick has been as good as advertised while helping the Cavs go 18-12 and surge into fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Mobley missed four games earlier this season with an elbow sprain, and the Cavaliers lost them all. Mobley also sat out Cleveland's 35-point win over Houston on Wednesday with a hip injury not believed to be serious.
Cleveland, which won just 22 games last season, is riding a five-game winning streak heading into Saturday's game at Milwaukee. The Bucks will be without superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was placed in the protocols earlier this week.
Cavaliers swingman Isaac Okoro was also placed in protocols on Thursday, and the coronavirus has sidelined several other prominent players across the NBA.
A number were missing in Boston, where the Knicks added rookie Miles McBride to an injury report that grew to six players in health and safety protocols. The Celtics also have six players in protocols.
“Nobody is feeling sorry for you," Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. "The league is what it is and guys are coming and going on every team. That’s when you look at your mainstays and guys that are available to carry you.”
Toronto’s Pascal Siakam and Dalano Banton entered the protocol before the Raptors faced Golden State in Saturday night.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland and freelance writer Ken Powtak in Boston contributed to this report.
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