PORTLAND, Ore. — Kyrie Irving’s suspension appears to be over, and the point guard’s return to the Nets seems to be set for Sunday.
“I think there’s been some positive synergy and progress towards him returning and it could be as soon as the Memphis game,” coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday, referring to the Nets’ home game against the Grizzlies. “So, that overall has been the progress so far.”
According to a report by The Athletic, Irving is expected to be cleared to play on Sunday, and multiple league sources close to the situation confirmed as much to The Post.
The Nets’ 109-107 win Thursday night over the Trail Blazers, therefore marked not only the end of their West Coast trip, but also likely the final game of Irving’s suspension.
“I mean it’s obviously a great win, and you add somebody that talented that great at the game of basketball back to your unit, we’re all looking forward to it,” Kevin Durant said after the Nets’ victory. “We’re playing a different brand of basketball than we were when he last played, so I know coach is looking forward to adding another weapon in our offense, and he’s been drawing up some amazing plays for us so I know he’s got some more stuff up his sleeve for Ky.”
It was the eighth straight game Irving missed, after he was suspended without pay on Nov. 4 for soci al media posts a week earlier promoting an anti-Semitic movie. Irving refused to apologize for the posts until after he was suspended, and the team gave him several remedial tasks to perform before being reinstated.
Those tasks appear to be done, with The Athletic reporting that once source said Irving had gone “above and beyond” what he had been asked to do. As of Thursday evening, however, Vaughn hadn’t yet spoken to his players about the Irving situation.
“I haven’t, and it was purposely so,” Vaughn said. “My thought process was there was some uncertainty. So when I have certainty, I’d like to give it to the guys. And so the thought was, let’s just focus on now.
“There will probably be a piece that Ky has to address himself. But at the same time, as the coach, there’ll be a piece that I have to address to the group. And when I know those answers, I will give it to them as soon as I know.”
While Irving’s return hasn’t been officially announced by the Nets, it seems a fait accompli.
“That’s what’s reported. I really don’t know. I focus on one day at a time, so hopefully Sunday it is. Really excited just to get everybody back and keep building on what we have going on,” Royce O’Neale said.
“It’s exciting for everybody,” Durant said. “We miss Ky, we miss his presence out there on the floor. Hopefully it’s soon. I haven’t talked to him since we’re on this road trip … the last couple of days. But looking forward to his return to the team, and definitely going to give us a much needed spark.”
Durant said he hasn’t talked to Nets owner Joe Tsai or general manager Sean Marks about Irving’s suspension, and has tried to steer clear of the situation.
“I don’t know the details about anything that’s going, on to be honest,” Durant said with a shrug. “I mean, I should know I guess because I’m part of the team, but I’ve been totally focused in on the road trip. And once we get back home I’m sure that stuff will figure itself out. But hopefully it’s soon. That’s all I can say.
“Obviously I wanted to know in the updates what was going on, but for the most part I just tried to control what I can and let Kyrie and the Nets focus on what they need to do in order for us, for this to go away and get Kyrie back on the floor.”
Irving is averaging 26.9 points, 5.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds. His Nets teammates said getting Irving back will be a huge boost. Durant predicted the greatest challenge would be conditioning and it wouldn’t take long for Irving to work through that.
Still, after the win Thursday, the Nets are 5-3 without Irving. Vaughn will have to integrate Irving into the defensive, team-first mantra he is trying to develop.
“Yeah, there is some uncertainty there for sure,” Vaughn said. “My approach is the train is going to keep moving. … And that train of playing hard, playing together, being a team, that’s going to continue. And it’s going to be up to me to get our group to incorporate everybody.But the train is going to keep moving.”
Portland coach Chauncey Billups said he was stunned by the amount of dysfunction surrounding the Nets.
“It’s unfortunate. … They’re going through a lot over there. It seems like they’re always going through a lot over there,” Billups said. “It always just seems like a lot. It makes me thankful to be with my team, to be honest with you.”