Kyrie Irving has said he does not want to become a distraction for the Brooklyn Nets this season. Well, whatever your point of view on the matter of vaccines and vaccine mandates in New York City, the Nets star has ultimately presented a distraction for his team. The team’s decision not to allow Irving to play in any games (including road games he would otherwise be eligible to appear in) presents an additional challenge, at least from an X’s and O’s standpoint.

On Sunday, Kyrie Irving protestors flocked to Barclays Center to support the Nets star. The team has beefed up security measures because of those (from some groups who don’t often meet eye to eye) turning out to oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates in New York. But inside the Nets’ locker room, the seven-time All Star’s absence is a prominent theme as well.

Kevin Durant was asked if this Nets team, now 1-2, has enough firepower without Irving in the lineup, just after his team got spanked in the home opener to the undefeated Charlotte Hornets.

KD didn’t mince words.

“I mean, while we playing in a game I’m not gonna sit there and say ‘Yo, we get down or it’s a tight game like, damn, we don’t have enough.’ Like, no, we’re not going to be thinking about that during the game. We definitely want Kyrie Irving out here on the floor. And he’s a huge part of what we do,” Durant explained. “But it’s not happening right now, so we gotta figure it out.”

KD is saying all of the right things, but the fact that his team is short-handed and the fact that he is being lobbed these questions has to at least weigh on him and the rest of the Nets.

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The sudden void at the guard spot has Nets head coach Steve Nash scrambling a bit as well. Nash admitted he would be willing to “sacrifice” a game here or there in order to continue experimenting with his lineup combinations. An integral rotation piece last season, Bruce Brown was literally out of the rotation in the first two games. There’s a lot of lineup tinkering going on, and the coach is clearly willing to make some mistakes in order to find what works.

Nash has repeatedly used words like “newness” regarding the teams’ rotation. He has praised his players at times for not experiencing “paralysis” because of all the uncertainty. These aren’t your ordinary coach-speak cliches. This is something altogether different.

“It’s just a balance we try to reach. You know you want to win games but you don’t want to overreact,” Nash said before Sunday’s home opener. “And you also know that sometimes you may have to sacrifice moments or eventually a game here and there because you are exploring more than worrying about the result. So finding that balance can be tricky. … I think it’s the right route for us right now. … Let’s get through as much exploration as possible early and see where we’re at.”

Irving may truly mean what he says that he does not want to be a distraction. There does exist some validity to claims it’s unfair the Nets are without (at least for half the season) one of the league’s best players while a team like Monday’s opponent, the Washington Wizards (whose star Bradley Beal is unvaccinated yet eligible to play), get to dodge this hurdle. It’s at least a little weird that Beal and not Irving can play in Brooklyn, whatever your values are.

But as long as there are protests occurring outside the stadium, as long as the players are being asked about Irving following each loss, as long as the head coach is willing to “sacrifice” games to experiment with his rotation as he scrambles to fill an All-Star-sized void at guard … the word distraction begins to feel like a pretty big understatement.