Kyrie Irving stepped up to the podium, ready to field questions for the first time in seven weeks.
The biggest story around Kyrie this season hasn’t been about his 50-point night or 11-game offensive rampage. It’s been about his mysterious shoulder impingement injury, one neither he nor the Nets have discussed very much or very well. It started on November 15 when the Nets PR Twitter account dropped a random tweet...
Update for tomorrow evening’s game at Chicago:
Irving (Right Shoulder Impingement) – QUESTIONABLE
He missed the Chicago game, then missed the next 21 games after that until he spoke again Saturday. The Nets deemed it a right shoulder impingement, which is very vague. Sean Marks had not spoken to reporters since Media Day. Kyrie Irving is hurt, therefore he does not have to speak with media. That put Kenny Atkinson in the drivers seat in this situation.
Atkinson didn’t budge. He explained how Kyrie was in the gym, but hadn’t participated in contact drills. This went on for more than seven weeks! The Nets are extremely close hold when it comes to... everything. Marks and his organization are strategic in everything they do. “Timetable” is a word that doesn’t exist in their vocabulary, their philosophies.
Why? There are two apparent rationales...
1. Why would they put a timetable on someone and put pressure on their rehab?
2. What if there’s a setback? That isn’t a good look for anybody.
But there’s an overarching reason as well. The Nets culture is about protecting their players, giving them their space, physical and otherwise., so to speak. But that is going to conflict with the fans and the writers and producers who cover the team. There has to be some transparency. After all, seven weeks is a long time to keep your superstar hidden ... and this is New York, where every decision is examined and re-examined.
Kyrie was asked about the criticism emanating from Boston and how he perceived that situation. He started – and ended off by emphasizing how this is the game he loves, but it’s mainly entertainment. He finished off by saying, “It’s changing.”
He isn’t wrong. Entertainment IS different. The year 2020 rings social media – a place where EVERYBODY has a voice. Players. Fans. Anyone. They’re in the spotlight in a different way. So yes, I do understand what Kyrie is saying when he says “It’s changing.” If social media isn’t around, Kyrie – and so many other players – would have no clue what other teams’ fans are saying about them. Do they care?
That was the last time we heard from HIM. On his Instagram story.
I thought about the deep inhale. Maybe he was nervous, maybe he wasn’t. He speaks well, so it’s hard to tell. But this man has been completely off the map. The only person commenting on him is his coach, and with the tight ship the Nets run, Atkinson must stick within the lines of what’s OK to say and what’s not.
Brandon Robinson “aka Scoop B”, writing for Heavy.com, reported on December 24 —the same day Irving got his cortisone shot— that “a source within the Nets organization stated that Irving could be out two to three more weeks with what they are privately calling thoracic bursitis.”
When asked about the report, Kenny kept it simple: “It’s not true.”
Well, Kyrie sat on the podium and said he had Bursitis in his shoulder. Of course, he also called the issue “shoulder impingement,” and truth be told, some medical texts treat “shoulder impingement syndrome” and “thoracic bursitis” as similar.
So we’re not going further than that. The thing worth noting in all of this is that Marks and the Nets are going to do things their way. They pushed their limits – seven weeks – without really speaking about Kyrie’s injury. It was an injustice to their fans.
And there’s something else. Irving noted that he first suffered shoulder pain on November 4, when the Nets played the Pelicans in Brooklyn. That’s more than a week earlier than we had been told the injury occurred. He exacerbated it on the Nets road trip, he said, until he couldn’t raise his arm to shoot.
Last year something similar to Irving happened with Allen Crabbe. The difference? Allen Crabbe is not Kyrie Irving.
On December 12, 2018, Crabbe, banged his knee on a drive. The Nets listed him as “doubtful” for the following game and deemed the injury a “sore right knee”. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Apparently, it was, but the Nets would never tell you. Two games later he was listed as “OUT” with a sore right knee.
The Nets put out a statement that read: “After further evaluation, it has been determined that the bruised fat pad, which has been the cause of right knee soreness, will require an additional period of recovery. Crabbe will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks, at which the point the next phase of his return-to-play protocol will be determined.”
(Hey, at least they let out a statement for him.)
But that was it. Allen Crabbe was “OUT” for seven weeks until Nets Public Relations tweeted that he would be probable for the February 6 game. On April 4, Crabbe underwent knee surgery. Two months later, he was traded to the Hawks.
Transparency is so important, for the fans, for the media, for the good of the game.
All in all, this experience has been a testament to how the Nets will operate, no matter what the rationale. Not many will agree that they’ve handled it well.
The Nets are protecting their players. So many great organizations with strong cultures keep quiet, hoping to avoid future headaches. Sometimes, it works. Most times, it doesn’t.
For now we know, Irving has taken cortisone while he seeks medical advice on whether he’ll need surgery. His pain is in the shoulder and as Atkinson said of shoulders, “They’re tricky.” Kyrie explained Saturday how he was in the gym constantly, shooting and lifting weights, exerting his shooting shoulder. Indeed, he said he’s in “a better place” now than he has been.
The Nets will play the long game on this. They’re a business and Irving is a four-year investment. Kevin Durant comes back next year. Why not let Irving recover while they continue to develop their guys and take them to the next level in Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen.
That’s certainly a thought, and Marks has given us little reason to question his vision. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another seven weeks to hear another update.
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