By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
Kyrie Irving is set to make her season debut.
The Brooklyn Nets, leader of the Eastern Conference, announced on Tuesday that Irving, along with Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, had approved the NBA‘s health and safety protocols – a major step towards their return to the field.
Irving hasn’t played this season, in large part because of his decision not to get the coronavirus shot and the Nets were initially unwilling to have the eternal All-Star with them part-time. Irving was not allowed to play at home due to a local rule in New York requiring vaccinations, and he and the Nets decided earlier this month that his return – albeit only to road matches – will allow the team “to more optimally balance physical demand across the roster.” “
Durant hasn’t played since Dec. 16, but he’s only missed three games so far because the Nets have postponed three more due to their virus issues. Aldridge hasn’t played since December 12, missing five games.
As the Nets were set to become whole again – and it wasn’t clear when any of the protocols clearing players would be able to replay – other teams were still in the throes of severe virus-related burnout. . Atlanta has added three players to its protocol roster, giving the Hawks 13 currently struggling with a virus-related issue.
And Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault became the latest NBA coach to enter health and safety protocols, joining the Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel, Chicago’s Billy Donovan, Portland’s Chauncey Billups and Phoenix’s Monty Williams.
Daigneault was excluded from training for Tuesday’s Thunder game against Sacramento. Mike Wilks will be the interim coach for this game, the team said.
Another notable addition to the protocols on Tuesday: Miami’s Udonis Haslem, who has had to play a lot more than usual lately as the Heat have been deprived of centers Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon due to injuries. Haslem was left out of the Heat game against Washington on Tuesday, a clash where the Wizards were preparing to miss at least half a dozen players over virus issues alone.
The league kicked off Tuesday with around 120 players in protocols. The numbers tend to change frequently as players test each day, and the league updated its protocols on Monday to allow shorter return-to-play procedures for players as long as they meet certain criteria related to symptoms and test results.
This should mean that some players on the current protocol roster could be back on the pitch sooner than expected.
The surprising Cleveland Cavaliers, who managed to score seven of eight wins while facing a COVID-19 outbreak, have picked up rookie forward Evan Mobley while putting guard Darius Garland in protocols. But Washington – who had been hoping to see Rui Hachimura make his season debut in Miami on Tuesday – will wait a bit longer, after being added to protocols.
With so many players in protocols this season, the NBA has made it possible for needy teams to sign tough contracts with players in recent weeks without having to add those unplanned salaries to the salary cap and luxury tax totals. This is the main reason why the NBA has already seen more players appear in a game this season than any other year in the history of the league – 546 and counting, entering on Tuesday, the season not even yet in. mid-term.
The previous record for players used in a full season was 540.
AP Sports writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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