Jeff Van Gundy, Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson still think Nets can win title without Kyrie Irving

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Kyrie Irving points Game 2 vs Milwaukee
Kyrie Irving points Game 2 vs Milwaukee

Jeff Van Gundy, Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson all agree: the Nets are still strong title contenders even without Kyrie Irving.

“I still think that they have accumulated enough talent to win it all. If healthy, obviously,” Van Gundy said on an ESPN NBA conference call ahead of the 2021-22 season. “And I think they’re one of the elite teams. I think (the Irving situation) will get resolved and I don’t know how. I think we’ll see him play this year. And I’m hopeful for Brooklyn and really for NBA fans that we do. Because he’s a special, special talent.”

Irving has been deemed ineligible to play by the Nets. Irving hasn’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. New York City requires the Knicks and Nets to be vaccinated in order to play home games. Irving is eligible to practice at the team facility and play on the road, but the Nets chose to keep him entirely off the court until he is fully eligible.

“Without Kyrie, (you still have) two incredibly special offensive forces in Kevin Durant and James Harden that can take over and be the best player against anybody that they face,” Jackson said. “Defensively, you really don’t have an answer for those guys. You can be sure that you’re going to get a quality look whether it be by those guys or the decisions that they make. … If they are fortunate enough, for some reason, to add Kyrie, it makes them even more (of a) favorite.

“You have to stay healthy and you have to stay fortunate when it matters the most. But they are certainly, in my mind, the favorites with the talent that they have and the pieces that they’ve added alongside of James Harden and Kevin Durant, and, if they’re fortunate enough to get Kyrie back.”

Miller, speaking on a conference call for Turner’s NBA coverage, agreed that Brooklyn remains a strong contender.

“Before this whole Kyrie situation, as Moses Malone said, God rest his soul, it was ‘four, four, four, four.’ [sweep the entire playoffs]. No question,” Miller said. “Hands down, they were the best team. It wasn’t even close. Let’s say Kyrie doesn’t play or plays half the games or whenever he comes back or gets traded, to me they’re still the favorite. Maybe then there’s a six-game series. Possibly a seven-game series.”

Van Gundy and Jackson also addressed Brooklyn’s decision to sideline Irving. The All-Star guard will lose roughly $380,000 for each home game that he misses.

“I think ultimately, Kyrie Irving has made the best decision for Kyrie Irving, which I respect. And the Brooklyn Nets have made the best decision for them, which I agree with and totally respect,” Jackson said. “I think it makes it tough for a coach to have a guy as a part-time employee and you’re trying to develop chemistry and principles and camaraderie as a team and it makes it tough. So I fully agree with the decision that they made and I respect the decision that Kyrie has made at this point.”

Jun 1, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots a three point shot over Boston Celtics shooting guard Evan Fournier (94) during the fourth quarter of game five of the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 1, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots a three point shot over Boston Celtics shooting guard Evan Fournier (94) during the fourth quarter of game five of the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Van Gundy believes the Nets made a "bold" decision.

“And I’m sure it came after great deliberation and speaking to Durant and Harden to see how they felt as well. And I think, when you voluntarily sit down a great player - and I think the unfortunate part of all the talk about his vaccination status and his availability to play is that we gloss over just what a great, great player he is; he had a great year last year going until he was injured - but when you voluntarily sit down that great a player it must have been a gut wrenching decision for them.”

Coaching a part-time player of Irving’s caliber would be challenging for any NBA head coach. But Jackson disagreed with the idea that it would hurt a team’s backup guards.

“Forget about that. I understand my role. I understand what I have to do,” he said. “If Kyrie Irving is eligible to play and we decide to play him as an organization, he’s going to play in front of those guys and we’re going to make the proper adjustments.”

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