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Kyrie Irving wondered if he’d be traded, released, then never felt fully back

2022 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving said on “The ETCs with Kevin Durant” podcast that his anxiety while at home early in the season was so enveloping that he wondered if the Nets would trade or even release him. Then when he returned, Irving said he never felt like he was fully back ... despite some spectacular performances.

The comments were part of a release of highlights from the podcast. The full podcast drops Wednesday.

It’s the latest discussion of his tumultuous season which included a ban, then part-time play and finally a return to full-time play. Both when he returned to part-time play in late December, then in his post-game comments after Game 4 of the Celtics sweep, Irving had spoken about the time he spent at home following his decision not to get vaccinated. But this time, he spoke specifically about his anxiety over his future both with the Nets and as an NBA player. He admitted as well that he wondered how he could “spin” his experience mentally.

“There was nothing to lose, you know?” Irving said of his return. “It was only the journey to enjoy at that point, because I was sitting at home and — I don’t even want to say sitting at home, I was wondering at home what my future was going to look like, you know? Whether I was going to be traded, whether I was going to be released, whether I was going to get the opportunity to be on another team, how I was going to spin this for myself in a positive way.”

Irving said his relationships with family and friends helped get him through it all but even when he got back on the court, he didn’t think he was playing at a high level.

“So, I kept affirming to myself things are going to change. I had people around me — and I’m grateful for them — affirming that things were going to change. But I never felt like myself throughout the season, because I’m usually sustaining a level of growth throughout the year, instead of trying to catch up with everybody that’s been playing for four or five months. They’ve been at it every day since October or September.”

Irving of course had some monster games in that return, scoring 50 points on March 8, then set a team scoring record with 60 points a week later. It was the first 60-point effort in NBA franchise history.

As Brian Lewis notes, there was never any suggestion that Joe Tsai and Sean Marks entertained the idea of releasing Irving. Both have said they had frank conversations about Irving’s reluctance to get the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the start of the season. While there was speculation about a trade, nothing even reached the rumor stage. Instead, it was James Harden, not Irving, who was traded at the February 10 trade deadline.

Irving also disclosed that he was still recovering in training camp from the severe ankle sprain suffered in the playoff series vs. the Bucks. He also said, as he has in the past, that he did not think the city’s mandates would be so stringent.

“I was at it [for less time] … September, October, I was healing from my ankle injury, and I was still dealing with that,” Irving said. “And when we got into training camp in San Diego, I was not expecting a mandate to be brought down in a way that it wasn’t going to allow me to play at all like.”

Then, even though he was playing road games, things were still unsettled for him and the Nets.

“I had the opportunity to play away games still, but there was no plan in place, there was no vision of how it’s going to work for our team. And I think that really impacted not just me, but a lot of people. So [I] just had to sit; sit in that hot seat for a little bit and deal with it.”

There were also other issues that could have led to Irving’s anxiety like how the Nets ended talks with him about an extension in October after wanting to sign him (and Harden) before the season began.

As Lewis noted, despite all that, Irving keep boosting his scoring and assist numbers as the months went by. Irving averaged 24.5 points and 5.4 assists in January. He bumped that to 25.7 and 5.3 in February, 30.0 and 6.1 in March and finally 30.0 and 6.4 in April. Things seemed to catch up with him in playoffs, however. After a spectacular Game 1, when he scored 39 points and handed out six assists, he had subpar games of 10 and 1, 16 and 9 before finishing with 20 and 5. In those final three games, he never shot better than 46 percent and was 2-of-11 from deep.