Kyrie Irving returned to Brooklyn Nets practice for the first time since the preseason, and in doing so said he understood why the team decided to have him stay away.

“I understood their decision and respected it,” Irving said Wednesday at the Nets’ practice facility in Brooklyn, making his first public comments since October 13. “I really had to sit back and think and try not to become too emotionally attached to what they were deciding to do. I had to really evaluate things and see it from their perspective, meaning the organization, my teammates. I really empathized and I understood their choice to say if you are not going to be fully vaccinated, then you can’t be a full [participant].”

Nets coach Steve Nash said Irving, 29, will need to ramp up his conditioning for a couple of weeks before he can return on the road.

Irving hadn’t been with the team on a regular basis since practicing for a week in San Diego during training camp in early October. With New York City mandating that players get vaccinated to play at Barclays Center, the Nets then decided against having Irving be with the team for road games and practices as well.

“I knew the consequences,” Irving said of his decision. “I wasn’t prepared for them by no stretch of the imagination. Coming into the season, I had my thought process on being a full-time teammate and just going out and have fun and provide a great brand of basketball. But, unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that. Things happen for a reason. We are here, and I am just grateful for this.”

Brooklyn had three games postponed last week due to a Covid-19 outbreak. The Nets opted to bring back the point guard for road tilts; after only a day, though, Irving went into the health and safety protocols. Irving, Kevin Durant, and LaMarcus Aldridge were all cleared from protocols Tuesday and were at practice Wednesday.

“Incredibly grateful just to be back in the building,” Irving said. “Welcomed back with open arms [from] my teammates, the whole organization. Not gonna lie, it has been relatively tough to watch from the sideline with everything going on in the world. I know everybody is feeling it [COVID]. Just praying for everybody to be healthy during these times. If I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with my teammates, even if it is just on the road for away games, I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Irving’s first opportunity to play will be when the Nets travel to Indiana on January 5.

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