Kyrie Irving stood at center court at Barclays Center after an emotional win over the Knicks, emphatically telling everyone who was listening, “This is our home. Our home.” Moments earlier, an emotional son walked to his father, took off No. 11 and in one single motion wrapped it about his neck and locked him in a tight grip, a huge smile crossing his face.
The national microscope is focusing in on the Nets culture now. the one built on family and cohesiveness, the one they’ve preached about endlessly over the past four years. The Nets success and its culture has been discussed ad infinitum. Now, though, It’s different. It’s embracing – and being embraced by – a superstar. The arrival of Kyrie Irving will require changes while maintaining that straight line they’ve been walking.
The first two games of the Irving (“Doctor K?”) era has left many, including his teammates, in awe. Coaches and players raving about his performances during practices is a weak alternative to actually seeing him play.
“I don’t expect 50, but games like tonight – you know 25 or 27, seven assists, five or six assists and a dub [win], I’m not going to be shocked,” Spencer Dinwiddie told NetsDaily after Irving turned on the clutch gear in the win over the Knicks.
The first two games represented a new era for the Nets. The guys who have been here, guys like Dinwiddie, relish the situation they find themselves in, having been through the lows and now the high’s of that new world in Brooklyn, one that includes Irving, who Dinwiddie calls the “best ball handler” the league has ever seen, and Kevin Durant, who he refers to as a top-two scorer of all-time.
“You look at what he did tonight, that’s just another day in the office for Ky,” Dinwiddie added. “We expect great things out of him. He holds himself to high standards, He knows what we expect out of him. You know, when I say he’s a dark horse for MVP I wasn’t just bullshittin’. With KD out, he’s going to shoulder a lot of the load. If we get in those high 40’s, low 50’s range then he’s going to be in that MVP conversation.”
The win over the Knicks pushed the knife a little deeper into the still-angry wound of their fans, who missed out on Irving and Durant this past summer. Durant has said the Nets are “cool”, the Knicks not so much. Then Irving made it hurt more by saying of New York, “This is our town,” marking his territory.
Even players found themselves with mouths agape.
“Wednesday night was an ‘Oh my god’ moment for me,” Jarrett Allen told ND after Brooklyn’s 113-109 victory over the Knicks. “I’ve never been a part of something like that since I entered the league. You see it on TV, you see it on Instagram and on Twitter, but I’ve never been on the court, nonetheless been on the same team as someone making that happen… All I know is that I need to always have my hands ready.”
It was new for almost everybody inside the organization and that is certainly no diss to anybody that’s played in this regime before. Things are different when you have somebody like Irving playing alongside you, somebody like Durant around the practice facility and in your ear.
Changes in Brooklyn vary from little things like the logo, to the court and even the locker room. Dinwiddie laughs when I ask him about all these changes around the organization.
“Man, you look around and even the locker room is different, you’re saying ‘Wow, now they really expecting us to win! On a serious note though, it’s no longer just about growth and playing hard anymore, it’s like ‘Nah, we’re here to win games.’ Having been through the whole process we’ve hit the point of ‘Okay, let’s do this.’”
There’s new ownership with Joe Tsai taking over and most importantly, the new faces around the locker room. Like Irving. Like Durant.
“He’s [Durant] been a great voice to have around. His career, his talents speak for itself. I say for me personally, it’s almost weird to have him around.” added Dinwiddie.
“Like, you asked me how things are different, Ky’s my guy so it is what it is, but KD, not knowing him as well, it’s like ‘Yo guys he’s going to be a top-two scorer of all-time.’ Then, just with him not playing, it’s kind of like ‘Woah he’s really here’, like that’s when it’s going to really kick in. That’s the one thing, like, he’s really here and we’re right with him.”
“He’s been a little bit of both [quiet and vocal],” Allen says of Durant. “When he knows he needs to step in, he usually does. I can’t really speak for him but I know for me it’d be hard to be vocal because he isn’t out there with us right now. I think he might not want to step in or overstep, but we’ve been all ears when he talks.”
Allen was drafted in year No. 2 during Sean Marks’ regime – a young big man whose overachieved in his first couple of years. He’s been a big part of the core they built from the ground up – a “cornerstone” in former Net Jared Dudley’s own words.
“Every year I’ve been in Brooklyn something new has happened. Maybe not this drastically, but I’ve gotten accustomed to change. Seeing these guys come here, seeing Brooklyn, I’m just happy to be a part of this. I’m grateful to be here.”
Allen also is happy to note another part of the culture, the contributions of those who’ve gone before, who helped him, specifically mentioning D’Angelo Russell.
“Not only did playing with him help me, but he helped me off the court, he helped me learn the game more just by watching film and becoming a better basketball player, so many other ways too,” the 21-year-old noted. “I hate to say it this way, but he helped prepare me to play with somebody like Kyrie and the guys we got here.”
Meanwhile, Dinwiddie is entering his fourth season with the Nets – one of Sean Marks’ first acquisitions back in December 2016. He went from third-string point guard on a 20-win Nets team, to a Most Improved Player candidate on a 28-win team, then a Sixth Man of the Year candidate on a 42-win playoff team.
“This is another step up for us, we know now is the time for us to win and that’s what’s different. I think for me, I won’t get so mad at refs or visibly frustrated, emotionally you can see how I feel about things because I’ve never played to lose or enjoy losing. For me, this is fun. We got a shot.”
He’s been around since the beginning of this whole thing – and he was crucial in building what they had both playing on the court to helping recruit superstars like Irving, even spending a week with him this summer in Hawaii. Dinwiddie has always possessed an extremely competitive nature – a winning attitude. All he wanted was to play for an organization that placed a premium on growth and improvement, give him a chance. While that’s the first step to a successful rebuild, Dinwiddie is just happy the Nets are finally in it to win it and not just focused on the term “development.”
We discuss Kyrie’s 50 points one last time. Dinwiddie is giddy as he talks about the changes in Brooklyn, the winning mentality and the idea that Durant will also suit up for the Nets. That’s when things will get real, he says, but for now, there’s a moment to enjoy.
“Shit, I been busting my ass for so long. This feels good,” Dinwiddie said with a smile.
Irving may have had well-publicized issues with his teammates in Boston, which he has explained and apologized for. But that was Boston. This is Brooklyn. A city of second changes.