As Kyrie Irving continues to miss games for the Nets, realization is setting in that his part-time status is unlikely to change this season.
For a Nets team that has struggled all season long to show some semblance of consistency, that will be a huge blow for their title hopes.
Speaking openly about the situation, Nets star Kevin Durant refused to condemn his teammate for avoiding the vaccine and denied that anyone on the Nets harbors any resentment.
"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."
"We love Kyrie as a human being. 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."
Durant has held this approach since the very beginning. Instead of calling out Kyrie or pressuring him to take the vaccine, he has only shown support and demonstrated unity.
All the while, his performance on the basketball court has been better than ever with some of his highest marks in years (29.4 points and 6 assists per game).
It remains to be seen how the situation with Irving will play out, but don't expect KD, or anyone else on the Nets, to force anything on their teammate. Win or lose, they value the freedom of choice above all.