There’s been a lot out there about Kyrie Irving.
To say the least.
The skepticism has to be understood from Boston’s perspective. It didn’t work out. Simple as that. The guy who they thought was their franchise player wasn’t. Chad Finn of the Boston Globe gave his perspective from the Boston side of things, warning Brooklyn of all the bad that comes with Irving.
“I think it’s pretty difficult and it probably wouldn’t be the right thing for me to comment on what happened in different organizations. I’m not a part of that. I’m not in the locker room. To comment on hearsay and scuttlebutt isn’t the right thing,” Marks said. “All I can do is comment on what’s going on inside our franchise. We use our players for a lot of that. Our players are our biggest storytellers. They’re the ones that, ‘This is what the Nets provide for us,’ and so forth.”
Kyrie is back home with his family. He’s happy, his parents are happy… everybody close to Kyrie is glad he’s back in his element. This was certainly a draw, and Brooklyn’s evolving culture and growth only made it more attractive.
With a big smile — and rocking a New Jersey Nets cap, Kyrie signed his new contract on a cafeteria table set up at center court in his middle school gym as Jay-Z and Sean Marks looked on. He was a Nets fan growing up, watching the Jason Kidd and Vince Carter teams play at the Continental Airlines Arena with his family and friends. After a school field trip to the arena, Irving told himself, “I will play in the NBA.”
Sure, there’s scrutiny about his philosophies especially his “flat earth” theory which he did abandon ... and apologize for. However, that wasn’t the issue. It’s easy to shed a negative light on someone when things are going poorly. If the team made it further than they were supposed to, he’d be the talk of the town. Everything would be positive, but it didn’t and for better or worse, he was the scapegoat. Bottom line in Boston: People think they know who you are, they think they understand what you think and dismiss the idea of a clean or refreshed slate, because well, they’re frustrated.
Especially in Boston, Mass.
But in Brooklyn, you’re seen as a good fit until you’re not. It’s part of the mentality around the organization and around the borough. You know, like Biggie said, “Spread love. It’s the Brooklyn way.”
Joe Harris, the longest tenured Net who played with Irving in Cleveland, thinks his guy is misunderstood.
“Kyrie, he’s got a big personality. He’s one of these guys that’s misunderstood. The way that he’s construed in the media is probably going to paint him in a light that is not necessarily true,” Harris said. “I’d say you could ask a lot of people that played with him and they’d all say that he’s a great teammate and a good guy to be around.”
“I think in any situation it’s unfair to only blame one party,” Dinwiddie told Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. “Whatever happened in Boston, I wasn’t privy to it. I didn’t live it. But I’d be hard-pressed to believe it was completely one-sided.”
It sounds awfully familiar to a situation that greeted a particular point guard when the Nets traded for him. D’Angelo Russell’s reputation was tarnished in Los Angeles and around the league. Snitch this, snitch that. Like Irving, Russell saw Brooklyn as a clean slate – the perfect place to go and start a new chapter.
Misunderstood. Sounds familiar. Here’s what Ed Davis told me about Russell this past season:
”You know all that s--t from the past… I haven’t seen it. Either he’s doing a great job of hiding it or a lot if it is just bulls--t. That happens a lot in this league. Me and him are tight and have a good relationship. All that stuff in the past… man, I don’t know.”
Under Kenny Atkinson, the Nets know how to develop and refurbish guys like Russell. They developed their core with guys like Harris, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Rodions Kurucs. ALL of them needed a clean slate on arrival.
“I think the challenge is to get the best Kyrie, “ said Atkinson. “I want him to have his best season ever and continue that improvement and that’s tough because he played well last year. I know there’s a lot of talk out there, but you look at his numbers and I think the way he played really well. Definitely going to challenge him to keep improving. We play a system I don’t imagine changing a ton.”
Atkinson has had success in developing promising young point guards, most recently Russell and Dinwiddie. Prior to that, Jeff Teague and Jeremy Lin have given Atkinson credit for his work with them as an assistant in Atlanta and New York. Some have used the term “point guard whisperer” to describe Atkinson’s relationship with his floor generals.
In his piece, Finn warned the Nets and Atkinson: “This is going to end badly, and much sooner than you think… You’ve got two years, Kenny Atkinson.”
Sure, if you’re a Boston fan, you can shrug off all this Nets happy off and ask why any of it makes sense. Brad Stevens is a great coach who isn’t at fault for any of this, right? Even he admitted it’s his job to make sure he fits the pieces together, in a recent interview with Jackie MacMullan. Not to mention the youngsters who MacMullan suggested weren’t as committed as they should have been. The fans already had their scapegoat in Kyrie. No need to look any further
Boston and Brooklyn sound identical in the sense that they built a hard-working, blue collar culture under young and reputable coaches in Stevens and Atkinson. The Celtics went from 25 wins to 48 wins in Stevens’ first three seasons coaching and built their team behind their own homegrown, young players.
Brooklyn went from 20 wins to 42 in Atkinson’s first three seasons -- and like Stevens, his team built on homegrown, young players. However, there’s a glaring difference in the off-season the Celtics traded for Irving (2017) and this past off-season in which the Nets signed him.
It isn’t just the hometown-family lure. It isn’t the top-class amenities that come with being a Net. It isn’t just the people that built the culture, specifically ownership, front office, coaching staff, medical team and performance staff. This is the stuff that helped get him here. But it isn’t what makes this whole thing different? That is part of it.
What makes this different is that Kyrie Irving is teaming up with his best friend, Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the league, now or ever. The big free agent pairing in Boston was with Irving was Gordan Hayward – a former All-Star who played for Stevens in college. But Hayward isn’t LeBron, isn’t KD.
That wasn’t Kyrie’s team. The view is different in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and I’m not talking about the skyline (although it is quite nice).
He has old friends on the team starting with Durant and DeAndre Jordan – three friends that came together while playing on Team USA. He has Dinwiddie – his new friend who was a major part in recruiting Irving. Their friendship goes back a little while now and evolved when they embarked on a class at Harvard last September. He played with Harris in Cleveland. Durant has his circle, too, starting the Irving’s circle as well as LeVert and newly acquired Taureen Prince.
It’s Kyrie and Durant’s team, back home in one of the biggest markets in the world and a franchise that’s craved superstar power since they moved to Brooklyn in 2012.
It’s a new chapter for both sides.
The Nets handed the Celtics in what turned out to be four unprotected first-round picks. While the Celtics danced on the Nets’ grave, Mikhail Prokhorov hit the reset button and fired everybody. Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson came in, assembled their people and worked to build a team without their own pick for five years.
In 2014, Boston got James Young, now out of the NBA. In 2016, they drafted Jaylen Brown – a fine young piece for Boston. The Nets drafted Caris LeVert. In 2017, they swapped picks and the Celtics got another fine young player in Jayson Tatum. The Nets used their pick to trade for D’Angelo Russell, who they eventually traded for KD. And finally, in 2018, the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s 2018 pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for… Kyrie Irving.
This isn’t to dis the Celtics or what they’ve built, but the Nets did what they did if not more… without their own draft picks. It’ll be a fun rivalry, perhaps the most anticipated Nets-Celtics rivalry since Jason Kidd’s Nets and Paul Pierce’s Celtics in 2003.
Like Russell leaving Los Angeles, Irving was shown the door in Boston and Brooklyn welcomed him with open arms. This is a franchise that hasn’t signed a top-tier free agent… ever. Now, they have two.
It would do everyone justice if we just let Kyrie Irving do his talking on the court. But for now, understand why this is a big deal for the Nets and its fans. There have been some good days, some bad days and some ugly days in Nets’ history. With the team on the rise behind competent leadership, there’s trust and understanding behind what Marks has done. So far, it hasn’t failed. The summer has been virtually flawless.
So, Boston, I encourage you to look at your perspective of the Nets now versus 2013. The talk now revolves around a superstar who left the Celtics for the Nets. Not some draft picks the Nets gave away for two washed-up veterans. That deal has been scrapped. A new one is on the table, in a gym, in West Orange, NJ.
- Kyrie Irving went from ‘scrawny’ unknown to Nets’ hoops Picasso - Zach Braziller - New York Post