Kyrie speaks, returns to practice with Nets
Irving cites 'family and personal stuff' to explain absence
The Brooklyn Nets welcomed Kyrie Irving back to practice Tuesday with open arms.
More importantly, the superstar point guard returned the favor.
Irving thanked the Nets’ organization, coaching staff and his teammates for their patience during his previously unexplained seven-game absence from the team, which could end this week in Cleveland.
“It’s been great. It’s been enough support for me to feel like they have my back and you know that’s all I can ask for not only supporting me but my family,” said Irving, who hasn’t played since spearheading Brooklyn to a 130-96 blowout of Utah here at Downtown’s Barclays Center on Jan. 5.
Irving, known for his mercurial nature in previous NBA stops at Cleveland and Boston, lost nearly $900,000 during the unexpected hiatus, due either to league fines for reportedly violating COVID-19 protocols or game checks surrendered.
Many conjectured that Irving’s no-shows were due to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Others speculated that Irving may have emotional issues, or something going on in his personal life that was keeping him from the hardwood.
Ultimately, only Irving knows why he decided to take a week-and-a-half off from team activities.
And he did his best to clarify what was going on both in his life and in his mind since sitting out the Nets’ Jan. 7 matchup with Philadelphia in Downtown Brooklyn.
“I’m a hometown kid, so you know things hit a little different when family and personal stuff going on and that’s up to me to handle that as a man,” he readily ceded.
“But yeah, I just take full accountability for my actions with the guys and just had a conversation with each one of them and we move on.”
The Nets have been doing some moving of their own without Irving.
They have won five of the seven games he’s missed and a season-high four in a row overall, including two straight since last week’s blockbuster deal for Houston stud and former NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden.
Though Kevin Durant and Harden have thrived in his absence, Irving is looking forward to forming a superstar triumvirate here on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush, even if that journey begins either Wednesday or Friday night against the host Cavaliers.
“It’s very exciting just to have James here,” said Irving. “Obviously letting go some of the pieces that have been here in the Nets organization for a while even before I got here was going to be hard regardless.
“It’s just the nature of the business, we’re all brothers still so we’re just moving on into the next phase of just developing as a team and building some camaraderie and having fun.”
While Irving wasn’t talking in specifics, he did indicate that the ongoing furor over the recent presidential election, which resulted in the storming of the Capitol, affected his desire to play basketball, albeit temporarily.
“If you don’t create that distinction (between basketball and the world around him), then it’s easy to feel the weight of the world while you’re going out there and playing,” he revealed.
“So, I’d be lying sitting here and saying I don’t feel what’s going on in the world, nor am I paying attention to it. I just have a huge responsibility, I feel, to continue to serve my community and the underserved. … You know, we got to come to an agreement to just stay balanced throughout this long journey. That’s all I am trying to do.”
The Nets doubtlessly hope Irving can find that balance between big-time baller and social justice warrior.
The former NBA champion contributed to buying a home for the family of George Floyd.
He’s also been at the forefront of helping fight hunger on a local and national level, has provided free college tuition to nine students and gave financial support to WNBA players who opted out of the league’s bubble site last summer.
On the court, Irving has been a steady contributor, when he actually shows up.
He is averaging 27.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and a team-best 1.6 steals per contest over his first seven games this year.
Rookie head coach Steve Nash, who has been busy learning on the bench, juggling superstars and trying to stem at least some of the negative publicity that has been thrown Irving’s way, was overjoyed to see No. 11 at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park.
“It was great to have Kyrie back in the building and with the group,” said Nash. “We’ve missed him. I’m excited to get him back out there on the floor. We were able to, like I keep saying, script and rehearse. It’s hard to build chemistry without playing, and we’re not playing in practice.
“So, the chemistry is going to be formed on the floor during games. It’s going to take some time. But we’re excited about the possibilities, and it was great to be out on the floor and to have Ky back in the building.”
The rest of the Nets feel the same way, including Joe Harris, the longest-tenured member of the team, who can’t wait to see our borough’s Big Three in action together for the first time.
“You’ve got Kevin who can do it at all three levels,” said Harris. “You have James, who can do it at all three levels, and you have Kyrie, who can do it at all three levels.
“They’re just good basketball players at the end of the day, too. They make the right play. I think a lot has been put on their scoring prowess, but they make the right play.”
Brooklyn basketball fanatics can only hope that K.D., Kyrie and “The Beard” have a long and fruitful relationship here.
And one that doesn’t include any more unexplained absences.
“I’m so excited for Ky to get back. He’s a key piece to what we’re trying to do,” said Harden.
“The chemistry, the sooner we can build that, the sooner we can be on the court together, it’s going to be scary.”
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