Harden: Nets still have '2 pretty good leaders' without Kyrie

Andrew D. Bernstein / National Basketball Association / Getty

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden believes his team can still contend for a championship regardless of whether Kyrie Irving is in the lineup.

"We've still got two pretty good leaders," Harden said, according to the New York Daily News' Kristian Winfield.

Irving's absence from the team stems from a combination of his unwillingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine and New York City's vaccination mandate.

Rather than allow Irving to be a part-time player, the Nets decided he won't attend any practices and games until he's vaccinated. Irving could lose up to half of his $33.3-million salary if he doesn't appear in any of Brooklyn's 41 home games this season.

Harden said Irving held discussions with members of the organization to elaborate on his thought process behind not getting vaccinated.

"Sean (Marks), Steve (Nash), me, (Kevin Durant), Kyrie, we all had conversations," Harden said, according to CBS Sports' James Herbert. "Kyrie believes in his beliefs, and he stands firm and strong on that. And for us, we respect it. We all love Ky."

Nets head coach Steve Nash also offered his perspective on Irving's situation.

"This is a difficult decision. But I think it was a sound one, and one that makes complete sense to everyone," Nash told reporters, including ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk. "We are just going to move on, and if things change, it would be incredible to have him back in the fold. It was a tenuous situation to have a player in and out like that. There's more clarity, and we can focus on the future and get going."

Brooklyn should still be one of the league's top teams this season, led by Harden and Durant's offensive brilliance. The Nets also feature multiple veterans who are sacrificing larger roles elsewhere to try to win a championship, including Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, and Patty Mills.

The Nets conclude their preseason games at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night. Brooklyn then opens its regular season on the road versus the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 19.

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Harden: Nets still have '2 pretty good leaders' without Kyrie
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