LOS ANGELES — Kyrie Irving practiced for the first time with the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday at the University of Southern California and made his first public remarks following his trade from the Brooklyn Nets. Here’s what you need to know:
- Irving said he demanded a trade by the Nets because “there were times (he) felt very disrespected” by the organization. He added that they were stuck at an impasse over a contract extension because he wasn’t “getting transparency and honesty from people in the front office.”
- Of LeBron James’ stated desire to reunite with Irving on the Lakers, Irving said: “As much as I would love to focus on and cherish the what could have been or what should be, I have to shift my shift my focus to what we have going on here.”
- Irving confirmed he removed from Instagram his apology for promoting a movie containing antisemitic material earlier this season. The Nets suspended him for promoting the film and initially declining to apologize for doing so.
- The 30-year-old will make his Mavericks debut Wednesday against the Clippers.
Diving into the Brooklyn breakup
Irving’s Dallas chapter has begun, but the bridges between him and Brooklyn remain engulfed in flames.
It’s been a dizzying few days since Irving informed the Nets he wanted to be traded by Thursday’s deadline, and would otherwise leave the team this summer as a free agent. It was widely reported that Irving was offended by the Nets’ short contract extension offer with certain requirements to meet for Irving to reach the full value of the contract.
“For me, personally, sitting in this seat today, I just know I want to be in a place where I’m celebrated, and not just tolerated, or just, you know, kind of dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said.
Irving has had a turbulent six years since demanding a trade out of Cleveland, with untimely injuries, playoff disappointments, multiple locker room blow-ups, endless streams of controversy, and more than one lengthy absence from the Nets, due either to a suspension, his going missing, or, of course, his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine last year when there was a New York City requirement for him to do so to play games in Brooklyn or Manhattan.
Last summer, Irving attempted to gain leverage with the Nets for a new contract but was rebuffed, and ultimately opted into the final year of his current contract, for $36.5 million.
“There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected,” he said. “I worked extremely hard at what I do. No one ever talks about my work ethic though. Everyone talks about what I’m doing off the floor. So I just wanted to change that narrative, write my own story.”
Irving said he regretted not doing research on the Nets’ front office before he and close friend Kevin Durant joined Brooklyn as free agents in the summer of 2019. The closest the two have come to playoff success was in 2021, when Brooklyn lost Game 7 of the conference semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks. Irving did not play that game because of an injury suffered earlier in the season.
During Irving’s tumultuous 21-22 season, which he missed most of due to his refusal to take the COVID-19 shot, James Harden demanded and received a trade away from the dysfunction on the Nets.
“I left them in fourth place — I did what I was supposed to do,” Irving said. “I took care of my teammates, was incredibly, incredibly selfless. And in my approach to leading I just want to do all the right things for myself, not to appease anybody.”
Irving said of his leaving Durant behind on the Nets: “Obviously he wished things could have gone differently.
“We still remain brothers,” Irving said. “But it is a business at the end of the day, as we always say and we got to look out for my family and ultimately I want to be at peace every time I come into work, rather than things hanging over my head or wondering what people think about me in the building or whether or not a report is going to come out tomorrow that I don’t talk to my teammates, which is untrue.”
How will Irving mesh in Dallas?
Irving, an eight-time All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist and 2016 NBA champion with the Cavs, now pairs with Luka Dončić, a ball-dominant guard who is tied for the league lead in scoring.
In Irving’s case, he played three seasons with a player like that in Cleveland (LeBron), and then with Durant and Harden in Brooklyn. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said those experiences are just one reason Dončić and Irving should be able to coexist in the Dallas offense.
“This is Luka’s team and will be Luka’s team,” Kidd said. “We understand what comes with this. There’s gonna be good games, there’s gonna be games where we don’t score 130, But it’s, I think again, let’s have fun. We had fun last year. We want Kai to be Kai.”
The Mavericks entered Tuesday with a 29-26 record and in fifth in the West. They reached the Western Conference finals last year but were dumped by the Golden State Warriors in five games.
Irving, meanwhile, averaged 27.1 points for the Nets.
“Am I worried about us coexisting and finding cohesion? No,” Irving said. “I played with some of the best of all time, greatest of all time, I’ve been on some of the greatest teams, on the Olympics and on the world champion, so I think this is gonna be my first time seeing like, one of those bad Europeans come over and really dominate up close.
“As much as I can alleviate for him, as much as I can lead alongside him, I’m willing to do, but there’s no pressure here,” Irving said. “Nothing’s forced with me and him. I just want to play basketball and enjoy his talent, and enjoy my teammates’ talent, and work towards a championship.”
Irving can still be a free agent season’s end and said he was in “no rush” to negotiate an extension with the Mavericks. He could sign a two-year extension now or get a four-year contract this summer.
“You stay patient and I’m gonna let those pieces lay where they are,” Irving said. “The business aspect of this is ruthless. So I don’t want to be distracted.”
What else Irving said
Irving said he “really feel(s) wanted” by the Mavericks, noting the two players (Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith) and multiple draft picks they traded to Brooklyn to acquire Irving and Markieff Morris. He later said he’s exchanged text messages with Dončić but the two have not spoken. They’ll do so when Dončić rejoins the team in L.A. on Wednesday. Dončić is out with an ankle injury.
Irving discussed deleting the apology: “I delete a lot of things on my Instagram. I stand by who I am and why I apologized … I stand by my apology and I stand by my people everywhere.”
(Photo: Rob Gray / USA Today)