Nets forced to regroup after COVID outbreak left roster separated

Before finally returning to action Christmas Day against the Lakers, the Nets had gone a week between games due to a COVID-19 outbreak. And for teammates used to spending as much time around each other as they do their families, the days without practices felt like months.

From Dec. 14 — the day six Nets went into the NBA’s health and safety protocols — players got separated and had to deal with their own issues, from those with positive or inconclusive tests having to isolate at home, or the few who stayed healthy training in an ever-shrinking group until practice got canceled altogether.

In all, the Nets saw 13 different players go into protocols — with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving still sidelined — and three straight games get postponed before they returned to the court Christmas night at Arena.

“The testing is pretty random when you get the results back, so when we started getting the results back, yeah pretty much you get snatched real quick, go into the protocols,” DeAndre’ Bembry said. “And the protocols is a little funny, you obviously want to stay safe and try to test out, test negative.

“So just try to stay safe for the biggest part and we definitely feel we don’t need to be snatched sometimes. But safety protocols so you got to deal with it in the NBA.”

Bembry and others likened it to getting pulled out of a classroom and sent to the principal’s office. And there was no place or time that players were safe from it. That day taught them that.

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“It just depends on where you’re at. Sometimes you might get pulled right before a game. That happened a lot last year. Guys were getting [pulled] during the game, right before the game, so it just depends where you’re at,” Bembry said. “So it just depends on the situation, the scenario you’re at. It’s so random to us, especially with as much testing as we do. You never know.”

Bruce Brown — who had COVID-19 in September, been fully vaccinated and even done a PSA promoting vaccines — could attest to that.

He recalled being in the Barclays Center locker room that day, looking around at all the empty stalls: Bembry, James Johnson, Paul Millsap. Brown read the room — or more accurately, what was going around it.

James Harden, the only member of the Nets’ Big 3 not in COVID protocol, warms up before Brooklyn’s game against the Lakers.
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“I don’t think it’s going to skip over my locker,” he thought, according to ESPN. And warming up on the court preparing to start against the Raptors, Brooklyn assistant GM Jeff Peterson waved him toward the tunnel to the locker room and told him he had to go into protocols.

Officials took Brown to an empty side room, delivered his street clothes and belongings, and marched him to the loading dock to leave.

James Harden was already there, sent home with the same fate.

The Nets eventually had to shut down practice altogether, with quarantined players like Harden, Brown and Bembry having to work out at home. Bembry said he had a foam roller, stationary bike and dumbbells.

“Luckily, I had a little workout gear with me. That was about it,” said Bembry, who had no serious symptoms. “I wasn’t able to do too much. Just get a home workout and stay isolated from everyone, so wasn’t able to do too much. Just did a little light lift and some conditioning.”

Patty Mills was one of the few players that COVID-19 did somehow skip over. Even if the Aussie guard hasn’t been able to figure out why.

“Yeah, mate, you, me and probably a lot of other people are trying to work that out. I don’t know, mate,” said Mills, who found his workouts just as isolated as the quarantined players, with practice shut down.

“[Friday] was the first time in this last week that there was some sort of normalization to our life environment here when you see guys come back that you haven’t seen in what feels like months. … It’s been some lonely workouts shooting by myself in this massive Barclays arena here. Cold, dark, lonely.”

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