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Joe Harris defends teammate Kyrie Irving as misunderstood

Cleveland Cavaliers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

For many Celtics fans and pundits, Kyrie Irving couldn’t get on the MassPike heading west quick enough. Despite his stellar statistical season, Irving had become the scapegoat of Boston’s disappointing year.

Chad Finn, a Boston Globe column, excoriated Irving in a column last week advising Nets fans that “This is going to end badly, and much sooner than you think.” He even warned Kenny Atkinson, “You’ve got two years, Kenny Atkinson.”

Finn laid out a litany of alleged character issues, saying Irving is capable of a more than an occasional “passive-aggressive stunt,” often “sounds like a freshman philosophy student” and will treat younger players “obnoxiously and detrimentally.” There’s lot more. Although Finn concedes that Irving has “more skill, creativity and deftness than any guard I’ve ever seen” and that “this may seem like sour grapes from a jilted fan base,” there’s a real anger in the column.

Joe Harris, who was Irving’s teammate in Cleveland for a year and a half, thinks critics have him all wrong.

“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.”

And in fact, another Boston columnist, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan has painted a more textured picture of Irving in Boston, making it clear that there was a lot of blame to go around.

“His journey began as an earnest attempt to fulfill his dream of leading his own team to the pinnacle, but he failed spectacularly, with help from a disjointed collection of talented individuals who simply could not figure out how to collaborate in unison,” MacMullan wrote.

Harris doesn’t pretend to know what happened in Boston, but thinks he knows his once and future teammate.

“None of us are perfect all the time. We’re all going to have ups and downs throughout the course of the season. For him, unfortunately, he’s just in one of these scenarios where there’s so much more attention on him and people are paying much more attention to when he does have an off day. … I have off days all the time too, but nobody really cares when I have from an off day. People care when Kyrie does.”

Harris won’t be the only Net to have a reunion with Irving. Assistant coach Bret Brielmaier was on the Cavaliers staff in 2016 when LeBron James and Irving led Cleveland to a championship.

The Nets, if they’re concerned about that, haven’t enunciated it. Kenny Atkinson said this weekend that “the entire coaching staff is excited to have the opportunity to coach a player of Kyrie’s caliber.”

And of course, they’re paying him $141 million over four years.

In the last couple of weeks, he seems to understand his public persona, whether it’s real or not, must change. He has talked about coming home to the New York area and posted a picture himself as a child with a Nets basketball. He even donned a New Jersey Nets cap after signing his contract — in the West Orange, NJ gym where he learned the game.

Other than the progress of Kevin Durant’s rehab, expect Irving’s personality to be as big a topic of conversation among fans and pundits alike. It’s New York. Could it be another way? Should it?