Guard Kyrie Irving returned to practice with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, and head coach Steve Nash said he expects Irving to be available when the Nets visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
“It was great to have Kyrie back in the building and with the group,” said Nash. “We’ve missed him. I’m excited to get him back out there on the floor. We were able to, like I keep saying, script and rehearse. It’s hard to build chemistry without playing, and we’re not playing in practice. So, the chemistry is going to be formed on the floor during games. It’s going to take some time. But we’re excited about the possibilities, and it was great to be out on the floor and to have Ky back in the building.”
Irving has missed Brooklyn’s last seven games, having last played in a win over Utah on Jan. 5. He attributed the time away to “family and personal stuff,” and said that he appreciated the support of the organization and teammates, whom Nash said he addressed as a group.
“It's been great. It's been enough support for me to feel like they have my back and you know that's all I can ask for not only supporting me but my family,” said Irving. “I'm a hometown kid, so you know things hit a little different when family and personal stuff going on and that's up to me to handle that as a man. But yeah, I just take full accountability for my actions with the guys and just had a conversation with each one of them and we move on.”
While appearing in seven of Brooklyn’s first eight games, Irving averaged 27.1 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 50.4 percent overall and 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
He’s returning to a group with a significantly different makeup than the one he last played with. Last week’s blockbuster trade sent away Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, and Rodions Kurucs, while bringing back six-time All-NBA First Team selection James Harden, the 2017-18 MVP.
“It's very exciting just to have James here,” said Irving. “Obviously letting go some of the pieces that have been here in the Nets organization for a while even before I got here was going to be hard regardless. It's just the nature of the business, we're all brothers still so we're just moving on into the next phase of just developing as a team and building some camaraderie and having fun.”
With Irving’s return, the Nets will be incorporating three of the league’s premier offensive talents, seeking a balance that gives them the room to maximize their skills.
“You’ve got Kevin who can do it at all three levels,” said Joe Harris. “You have James, who can do it at all three levels, and you have Kyrie, who can do it at all three levels. They’re just good basketball players at the end of the day, too. They make the right play. I think a lot has been put on their scoring prowess, but they make the right play. When guys cut and they’re open, they find you, they hit you when you’re open on the perimeter and being able to play off guys like that, it’s an unbelievable luxury in this league. We’re fortunate that we have the playmakers that we do. I mean, they can go and get a basket pretty much at any point in the game themselves, but they’re also equally as good at facilitating and getting guys involved and just making the right basketball play.”
While speaking after Tuesday’s practice, Irving acknowledged purchasing a house for the family of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis in May, calling it a “team effort.” It was the latest contribution from Irving, who in the past year has funded multiple efforts to combat hunger throughout New York City and the country, provided for the tuition of nine students at an HBCU, Lincoln University, and also provided financial support to WNBA players who opted out of playing the 2020 season.
Irving described trying to build a separation between playing basketball professionally and dealing with the world around him.
“If you don’t create that distinction, then it’s easy to feel the weight of the world while you’re going out there and playing,” said Irving. “So, I’d be lying sitting here and saying I don’t feel what’s going on in the world, nor am I paying attention to it. I just have a huge responsibility, I feel, to continue to serve my community and the underserved. And when I’m out here playing, it’s continuing to leave knowledge with these guys and commit to something, like I always say, bigger than ourselves. This team environment here – or just basketball in general. It takes sacrifice and compromise. You know, we got to come to an agreement to just stay balanced throughout this long journey. That’s all I am trying to do.”
With his return impending, Irving also addressed Nets fans.
“Well the beautiful thing about that is I started off as a fanatic, I started off as a fan, I’ve been invested in this organization since I was a kid,” said Irving. “So now that I’m this role as a player, there is quite a difference. The fans out there, I want to apologize them as well. My commitment has always been to bringing something special to Brooklyn. It wasn’t just a championship. It was unity, equality, just bigger things than just the game itself. It took quite a while and quite a few valleys to get back home, initially. So for me, I’m just taking every day, just being grateful. But for the casual, or the fanatic, it’s part of our culture. And I’m back, I’m happy to be back. And we got some great pieces and we just move on and I let my actions and my game speak for itself like I planned on doing. Just needed a pause.”