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Kevin Durant – Kyrie Irving ‘frustrated’ he can’t play at home, but Brooklyn Nets’ title window open beyond this season

NEW YORK — Kevin Durant says Kyrie Irving is “frustrated” that he still cannot play Nets home games because of New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but he also thinks Brooklyn’s championship window extends beyond this season regardless of when his star teammate returns on a full-time basis.

“He’s frustrated in not being able to play,” Durant said after the Monday shootaround. “He figured this stuff would be rolled back by now, we’d be way past this. But it’s the situation we’re in, we got to deal with it, he’s got to deal with it. Trusting that it’ll get figured out there soon. I have no clue what may happen, but I’m just trusting that things will work itself out. But I’m sure he misses playing in front of a home crowd and the home crowd, vice versa, they miss him. So hopefully we get it figured out soon.”

Durant called out New York Mayor Eric Adams by name after a March 13 win over the New York Knicks, on the same day Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, sat courtside at Barclays Center but could not play in the game because of the city’s mandate. Durant acknowledged what many in the Nets organization have known for months, and what Irving himself has made clear since returning as a part-time player Jan. 5: He will not be getting vaccinated.

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“I mean, what is it, April almost?” Durant said. “It’s pretty obvious that he’s not going to take the shot. So like I said, just focus on who you are and what you bring to the team every day and once that situation gets figured out, then it will. It’s out of my control, it’s out of everybody else’s control. So you can’t force anybody to do anything. So just try to just focus on me.”

Durant explained why he felt so many people inside the building have stayed behind Irving, despite lingering frustration within the organization that he chose not to get vaccinated.

“We love Kyrie as a human being,” Durant said. “I don’t think we were ever upset at him as much as people on the outside were. We get that it may affect the outcome of some basketball games, but that’s not the only reason why we love Kyrie as a person because what he can bring to the court. I think overall him as a human being, we respect who he is, we respect the game on top of that.

“He made the decision for himself, so you just got to respect it and move forward. We wasn’t coming in here every day pissed off at him because he wasn’t around. We’re just trying to focus on us individually and who was in this building as a collective and let that stuff work itself out. When he was able to come back in here, it felt like nothing changed.”

Can the Nets still reach their ultimate goal of a championship this season if the mandate isn’t rolled back?

“If it doesn’t, we’d be missing a huge piece of our team,” Durant said. “But we’ve still got to go out there and play the game. We’ve been saying that no matter who’s on the floor, you’ve still got to go out there and play and hoop. We’d love to have Kyrie out there, being out there, but if they aren’t, the rest of the guys just got to go play and live with the results. I think we’re all comfortable with that.”

Durant, 33, is also comfortable with the idea that no matter what happens the rest of this season, the Nets are still positioned well to compete for future titles. He was asked whether he felt there would be regrets about this season if it doesn’t pan out the way the organization hoped.

“If you’re looking at it as if, like, this is our only chance to ever do something special with this group — and other people looking at it that way — then I can see why,” Durant said. “But to be honest, I signed here for five years to play. You know what I’m saying? Looking at, obviously this year’s important, but no matter what happens this year I still want to do it again. And again. I want to continue to play, have this group together as long as we can. So short term, we can focus on that for sure, but we also looking at the big picture of things too.

“Seeing how we can build something sustainable for more than just a year or two or three. I know I’m getting old but I feel like I’m mentally and physically in a solid space to contribute to an organization that’s ready to grow and reach new heights. It’s always going to be rocky at first initially, when you start trying to start something new. So I’m excited about what the future holds, but I also want as much as we can get in the moment as well.”

In other words, the former MVP believes the Nets’ title window is going to be open for at least a few years.

“I’m not guaranteeing that we got a championship,” Durant said. “But I just like what we’re building. And I’m not going to say this is the only year we’ve got an opportunity to fight and work towards something. I don’t think next year we’ve got to start all the way over and try to figure out what’s the next iteration of the Nets. I feel like we can just build on what we have and see what happens. We got guys that are committed and want to be here.”

One of those players is new swingman Ben Simmons, who was acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers before last month’s trade deadline. Simmons still hasn’t been cleared to practice as he recovers from a back injury — and it remains unclear when he’ll be able to play this season. Durant made it clear he doesn’t want Simmons to rush back — and wants to make sure his back is fully healthy whenever he returns.

“He’s doing good,” Durant said of Simmons. “He looks good as far as just walking around and being around the team. Haven’t seen him do anything on the basketball court as much, but a couple walk-through things. But I think his spirits are in the right place and he’s excited to be a part of the group and looking forward to having him out on the floor. I definitely don’t want him to rush back for us and his back is not right, so take all the time he needs to get his body right and once he’s out there we’re ready to rock and roll.”

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