Kyrie Irving gave himself a big introduction to Brooklyn back in October, with a 50-point debut against the Timberwolves and a game-winner against the Knicks two nights later. But the two-time All-NBA guard has been out of action since mid-November, listed as out due to a shoulder impingement for Brooklyn’s last 22 games.
Saturday evening at Barclays Center before the Nets played the Toronto Raptors, Irving spoke with the media for the first time since he last played on Nov. 14 in Denver.
“I’m doing a lot better,” said Irving. “It’s just been a lot of questions I have for what would be the best-case scenario for me to go out there and play, and what can I possibly play through with this shoulder injury. It’s very unique because it’s the first time I’ve ever had such a significant feeling in my shoulder where I’m going up to shoot jump shots and I can’t really lift my shoulder to get up in that jump shot position and its impinging. There was some bursitis in there that was really, really impacting me going out there and playing my game at a very high level.”
Over his first 11 games as a Net, Irving averaged 28.5 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds, all career-high rates. With Irving in the lineup, Brooklyn ranked 10th in the NBA in offensive rating with a 108.5 mark and posted a 4-7 record.
“I mean, so you have so many goals in the beginning of the season that you would like to accomplish with the team, individually,” said Irving. “You want to sustain a certain level of play. Obviously, our team record at the beginning of the season wasn’t reflective of where we’re probably going to be headed in the future but it was a start. It gave me a chance to get to know my teammates, get to know coach, really just throw myself into that environment.”
Irving joined the Nets over the summer as a free agent in a haul that included Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan, plus veterans Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler. Durant is expected to miss the entire season after suffering an Achilles tear in last season’s NBA Finals. While Irving indicated season-ending surgery could be an option, he took a cortisone shot on Dec. 24 to attempt to return to the court this season.
“I think the most important thing for us is just the big picture,” said Irving. “Obviously, when I say we: myself, KD, and DJ, Garrett, Wilson, you know, us veterans, we obviously signed here for a reason and that’s for the big picture, which is NBA championship. And the level of play that we have right now in our team – is it fitted for the future? I think that’s yet to be answered but I think we want to figure that out. How do we get to that level and build a championship culture here and that doesn’t just happen in just one year just because you get certain players. Things have to go right and right now, things are not going particularly right for our health and well-being because I’m injured. (Kevin Durant) is obviously injured. Our guys are playing through injury but our guys are still sustaining a fairly good level of play. We’ve been able to put together some good wins.”
Below are excerpts from Irving’s media session on Saturday evening:
ON TIMELINE OF INJURY
“It actually starred back after we played the Pelicans (on Nov. 4). After that game before the road trip I felt decent. I’d been shooting every single day. I’d been making sure I was lifting, making sure I was taking care of my body. And it got to the point where I had overused it. You come into the season and get hit in your face like I got hit in my face, and then lack of preseason time I was trying to make up time in training camp still throughout that time trying to get ready for the first game of the season I shot every day. Late at night after games sometimes, after practice, and got to that Pelicans game one wrong contest on a shot – I think somebody came and blocked it – and then after that game our (physical therapists) looked at it, they dug on it and I started wearing tape on that road trip. And that Denver game was the last game I played. After that it just progressively got worse. So, I’m in a better place now that it’s been some significant time. I tried to go without any anti-inflammatories, which is why it took so long. And now I’m at a place where the next step was to either get a cortisone shot or get surgery. So that was the ultimatum I was fixed with. So now I’m just doing to best I can to live off this cortisone and move forward if I need surgery in the future.”
ON DEALING WITH EXTENDED TIME OFF THE COURT “It was definitely difficult to find out what I had going on with my shoulder – the timing of it, what we needed. We go on a road trip, I think we go 2-3, so that was on my mind and I tried to play through it on the road trip and then probably playing during that time made it worse. It just sucks, man. It really is disheartening when you know you’re working your tail off to be at a certain level and your shooting shoulder just starts to give out on you a little bit. You’re looking at it like, let me ice this thing, let me just get back out there and you keep feeling something in your shoulder, and you’re trying to explain it to the medical staff, you’re trying to explain it to all these experts out there. I’m going to see shoulder specialists, I’m in Phoenix, Arizona trying to see shoulder specialists. I’m seeing the shoulder specialist for a week and two weeks. I’m doing all these exercises. Still nothing is happening to get me back on the court, so it’s definitely frustrating. But, like I said, I’m in a better place now. You know, just keep progressing and see where we end up in the next few weeks. ON TEAM’S PERFORMANCE WHILE HE’S BEEN SIDELINED “They’re doing their best and we’ve got to support them and it’s part of my job as one of the leaders on the team to continue to do so. I’m nothing but proud of the guys for holding the fort down and I kept telling them, when I was injured, keep this boat afloat for as long as we can. When I’m back, then we make a push for the playoffs and we see where we go from there, but we’ve got to be realistic with that’s going on here. Guys aren’t healthy. Me and KD obviously came here to play together and lead these guys to a championship fun the next few tears. And right now, we’re just not in a position to do so, but we’re going to do the best we can for this season.”
ON WHETHER THIS IS A LEARNING PROCESS
“I'm going to be as candid as possible it's fairly difficult to be injured at the beginning of the season in the middle of the season at the end of the season during the playoffs. It's always going to be a mental strain. This is something I've spent the majority of my life working to do at a very high level and I want to do it at the best level I can, which is greatness. When you're injured, and your team needs you, of course, you go home and you're like, why am I not playing yet? When is this going to turn, where is the corner and turn and well enough health wise to go out there and play at a high level. You go home, you ice your shoulder as much as you possibly can you try not to reflect on the past too much of all the other injuries you've been through of what you've battled through and just attack the rehab as best you can. That's really the best way to break it down.
ON CORTISONE SHOT VS. SURGERY
“The next progression was get a cortisone shot or you get arthroscopic surgery. The cortisone shot lasts as long as it can. You either continue to get cortisone shots, which is obviously detrimental to your health in your muscles, or you go get arthroscopic surgery. For me, it’s just about being able to go back out there after the right amount of rehab, the right amount of rest, recovery, and see what we can do for the rest of the season and then reevaluate after a few months.”
ON HEARING CRITICISM
“The big picture, when I started playing basketball, you realize that a lot of variables come into play with all this. I do it because I love it. But at the end of the day, it’s entertainment. Fans love to be entertained, and I think that I myself kind of fell into that cycle of being emotionally attached to something like that, especially when I’m watching the game at home with my family, much to the fact that it wasn’t about the players on the floor during that day. It became about me and where I was and what I was doing. For basketball to become more about just one individual player, and it’s a team sport, just to justify market value or bringing more fans to the games or justifying why all that stuff happens, so be it. That’s entertainment. I’ve got nothing but love for Boston, nothing but love for the journey I had with all those guys. I appreciate everyone standing up for me and speaking on my behalf and telling it’s not all my fault, it’s not all on him. I’m a man. I’m able to take criticism. I haven’t taken it well in the past. But at this point in my career it’s just the big picture that I need to focus on winning a championship here and how do I make this organization better and we move forward from that point. I can’t control what anyone says about me when I’m not talking or when I am talking or when I’m in an arena or when I’m not. People are going to say regardless whatever they feel. I respect that, but at the end of the day it’s entertainment, man. It’s changing.”
ON CONSIDERING SURGERY NOW AND MOVING FORWARD TO NEXT SEASON
“Yeah, it’s definitely crossed my mind. I wouldn’t be honest with you if I didn’t tell you that, but I felt that the next step in the progression is to get the cortisone and see how it responds and then move on from that point. In two months or so, see if it still lasts for a month or could start hurting in the next two weeks. So I’m gonna continue on the process that I’m on of rehabbing and try to get back out there with the guys. It’s definitely crossed my mind just getting the surgery, it would probably put me out for three or four months, or whatever two, three doctors say. You’re gonna dissect what I say anyway. I just thought about the present moment and what we have. The overall goal is to remain healthy and get better with these guys, and then we move forward after this season when we achieve the goals that we have in place.”
ON THE REHAB EXPERIENCE
“It’s just a long process, man. You get all those questions. Instead of how you doing, it’s how you feeling? How’s your shoulder? Everywhere I go it’s how’s your shoulder, when you coming back, when you coming back? And when you don’t have a fair answer, you kind of take it a little personal. I don’t know when this is gonna be where it’s at. But after getting the cortisone shot it put me in a better position. I feel better, my body feels better. So just gotta continue to work at that and see where I land.”