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Kyrie Irving is ready to perform for all 82 ‘tour dates’ ... what about leading?

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s been so much talk about who is the leader of this Nets team? Is it the best player, Kevin Durant who leads but maybe not in the traditional sense. It’s always good that the best player is the leader, but it’s not always the case. Sure Michael Jordan was the leader with the Bulls and Tim Duncan with the Spurs. But was it Kobe or Shaq in L.A.? Magic or Kareem before that?

So, what about Kyrie Irving? Is that realistic after everything that has transpired? It is he and KD? Just him? Indeed, something is different about Kyrie Irving this preseason.

The sense of humility that he spoke with during his Media Day presser in September was just the beginning; Irving outlined a summer of frustration, embarrassment, and most importantly, failure, as his extended absence last season played a large role in Brooklyn falling short in the postseason and then him not getting a long-term contract extension with the Nets. Regrets? He admitted, he’s had a few.

On Tuesday afternoon, Shams Charania dropped a clip from an interview he with Irving on Stadium in which he talked about those regrets and some recent life-altering moments he’s had since he decided against getting the COVID vaccine ... including the birth of his son, time he spent with his daughter while banished and his ankle injury.

“When Kev made that request, I feel like we got better,” Irving told Charania talking about Durant’s June 30 trade request. “Afterwards. Not initially, but now where we are now, I feel like we can honestly say we got better, with the principles that are needed for success. Without going through some test in the summertime or during the season, we wouldn’t be able to be as close and bonded as we are now.”

Now in a contract year with both the Nets and Nike, Irving’s been doing all of the right things and leading by example. His teammates and head coach have already taken note of the star guard’s improved work ethic. The team keeps putting him out there to talk to the media as well.

And yes, he certainly wants to lead. Of that, there is no doubt.

“I understand the position that I’m in, and I carry that with humble responsibility of being able to lead by example, and not just be a person that comes up with a bunch of fancy words, but actually acts on it,” Irving said after practice Tuesday. “So just figuring that out daily. It’s not a perfect job. It’s not an easy job. And it’s definitely not meant to be a solo act. So I got a lot of help with these guys out here.”

Irving has always had a reputation as a great teammate — Nic Claxton mentioned that Monday — but his “issues” keep getting in the way. Will he simply be around enough to lead? Will something get in the way? This year, that seems to have changed, too.

After Tuesday’s practice, Irving mentioned how good it felt to be in the building with his teammates from the very beginning. As a reminder: he was unable to participate in any of Brooklyn’s practices or home games due to New York City’s COVID-19 health regulations this time last year.

“It feels good to get started from Day One. All hands on deck, everybody swimming in the same direction, or getting everybody to swim in the same direction. Really just echoing what it means to trust your teammates out here and build on and off the court. We are professionals when we step into this building, but off the court, we can still build and do things that help us unify on the court,” said Irving, sounding very much the budding leader. “So it’s good to get started with all the guys. And I don’t want to take anything here for granted.”

On Monday, Claxton, mentioned that Irving was looking to change the “narrative” about himself. Irving pushed back on that notion, not to outright disagree with his teammate (in fact, he thanked Claxton for the kind words), but mostly to make the point that he was focused on other things this season, like leading the team by example and trust his teammates to support him when the going gets tough.

“Very small level of focus over here, if any, on changing the narrative? I think I was asked that question a few years ago,” said Irving, “yeah, my focus is not there. I can’t even pour energy into that.”

Irving also spoke about how appreciative he is the of the impending journey, the 82-game footrace that can sometimes feel like a slog after grueling road trips and condensed scheduling. He compared the NBA schedule to 82 slated “tour dates,” which fits in line with how he’s always seen himself as a professional basketball player — as a performer.

“Just go out there play basketball, hoop, work on what we’ve been working on in pre-season, and use these 82 tour dates to our advantage and just get ready,” said Irving. “We got to dance every night, 82 games, and perform well. So I like to think of it as going on like a tour and we get to be able to bond.”

Irving’s goals are high for his team — a championship — though it’s more just your average NBA title. It’d be a championship for the team he grew up rooting for since he was a child.

“I honestly can say I’m grateful to be in probably the dream position of a kid or a Nets fan, being at home and being able to play for their home team. So it’s always gonna be a special place in my heart,” said Irving. “Specifically, what we’ve been through in the last few years, it’ll make it a lot sweeter if we do get to the top of that mountain at the end of the season, so I’m looking forward to the journey.”

To this, Irving was asked what a title would mean to the Brooklyn Nets franchise.

Irving, always quick and witty, responded:

“I’ll probably have an answer for you in six to nine months.”

Durant too has seemed to be a bit more engaged in the leadership moment. Just a few days ago, he talked about his role in sustaining success.

“Vibes have been straight, but who knows what the vibes will be if we hit a skid or we’re not playing well or somebody gets injured?” Durant said. “I think that’s what makes a team: how we stick through those times. It’s easy to be cool when everything is positive right now, but we’ll see as the season goes on.”

There is no doubt that Durant and Irving should be the leaders of the team. They’re the best players and they’ve held championship trophies and worn Olympic laurels in the past. They get on well, unlike say Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

But 82 games, or tour dates can take a toll. Being there for all of them is what matters.

Joe Harris is officially out of Wednesday’s game, Nash told beat writers Tuesday. He’ll join Seth Curry and T.J. Warren in street clothes. Edmond Sumner, who had been troubled with a hip strain, will be available.

Kristian Winfield caught up with Harris Monday afternoon at a team function, a ribbon cutting at the DigitialGirl’s newly renovated technology hub, a job facilitated by a $250,000 grant from the Nets, Liberty and Webull. Harris explained what’s behind his foot soreness and spoke as well as how his return to play could be gradual.

“I was reaching the end of my initial rehab timeline, and it’s kind of one of those things where the intensity goes up from open gym to practice, and from practice to the preseason games,” he told The New Monday afternoon. “It’s really more about my body just kind of building up a tolerance just for playing higher intensity loads.”

Harris will be reevaluated on Thursday, along with Curry, to see how soon and at what level he’ll be back.

“I’m hoping to be back here pretty soon, full go,” Harris said. “But even when I am, I’ll still be at a little bit of a limited capacity.”