Kyrie Irving Ready for a Homecoming Debut
Raised in New Jersey, point guard opens with his childhood team Wednesday night
After eight seasons in the NBA, Kyrie Irving is getting the home game he was looking for on Wednesday night.
Irving took his first steps on this basketball journey on the other side of New York Harbor, growing into one of the country’s top high school stars at St. Patrick in Elizabeth, N.J. while rooting for the Nets at the Meadowlands and dreaming of putting on the jersey of his hometown team.
The jersey looks a little different now that the Nets have been in Brooklyn since 2012, but it’s still the moment Irving has been dreaming of. With his first shot at free agency, his compass pointed him home.
“I've just been waiting for this time,” said Irving. “Just to be here and be able to be in close quarters with some great teammates here. I had a choice during free agency to be back in, close to Jersey, close to New York. This is the heart of basketball. I grew up playing here in these different boroughs going form Jersey on the George Washington Bridge and now getting a chance to have my family come in there for 41 games.”
The growing young core the Nets have built under general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson on the way to last season’s playoff berth added to the lure.
“The maturity of their players, just continuously getting better,” said Irving. “Kenny, how he held them accountable how truthful he was with them, how truthful he was with you guys how when they were losing games, trying to get into the playoffs last year, the type of players they had. He stayed the course and he understood that it was going to take time.
“For me I just wanted to be in a place especially being back home where I could really commit to that for years to come. It was an easy decision. I was coming here regardless and it was going to make sense in terms of getting these players to be on the type of level that they desire and be able to lead them in the best way I know how.”
In Irving, the Nets add a floor leader with two All-NBA selections — including a Second Team pick last year — six All-Star Games and an NBA championship on his resume. After three years in development mode, Atkinson has one of the league’s most dynamic offensive talents at his disposal.
“Cool. That’s how I look at it. We’re cool,” said Atkinson. “I think we threw a lot of new stuff at him. Imagine you have to adjust not only to a new coach, new players, living in a new place, so I just think that takes time to get him comfortable. I know I’m comfortable living here, I’m comfortable with the organization, but really starting to get a comfort level with him. Just spending a lot of one-one-one time. But definitely feel good about where we are right now.”
Irving’s formal acclimation has been limited essentially to one of Brooklyn’s four preseason games, as he left one other game in the first minute. But he’s been working with teammates since the summer — it was a facial fracture in a workout that led to his limited game action — and Atkinson said the fit of a new floor general has been smooth.
“Quite honestly we haven’t changed that much, not as much as I thought getting to know him,” said Atkinson. “What we did last year fits him. I will say because of his elite shooting ability, getting him off the ball a little bit more, whether it’s out of a timeout or a side out of bounds, getting him looks without the ball in his hands. We know he’s a great pick and roll player, but also elite coming off screens, so finding that balance. We’ve put in a few sets to get him off the ball a little bit.”
Irving is appreciating the culture and approach from Atkinson as the new-look Nets work to figure out who they are, a journey that begins for real on Wednesday night.
“I think Kenny always echoes that this is player-led,” said Irving. “He gives us the freedom to figure it out, be out there just being basketball players. Doesn't want to limit our talent wants us to really expound on what his system is and go out there and make the right choices, right plays. Basketball is a game of sequences so different reads are going to happen on the fly and Kenny's going to get on our ass about it and rightfully so. As professionals we deserve that kind of teaching and the whole coaching staff has been catered to us and getting to know us and developing our own identity.”
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