LOS ANGELES – Two days after the Brooklyn Nets traded him to the Dallas Mavericks, Kyrie Irving gushed about his current situation before lamenting the circumstances that led to it.
“I know I’m going to be at a place where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated,” Irving said following his first practice with Dallas at University of Southern California on Tuesday. “There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I was really disrespected.”
Why did Irving feel disrespected?
“That’s another day where I can go into detail about it. I’m not a person to really speak on names and go to someone behind their back and try to leak stuff to the media,” Irving said. “I need healthy boundaries, especially in this entertainment business. There’s a lot of disrespect that goes on in people’s families and their names. I’m just not with it. It’s nothing personal against any of those guys in the front office. It’s just what I’m willing to accept.”
Numerous incidents clouded Irving’s three-plus seasons in Brooklyn that included two first-round exits in three playoff appearances. Irving played in only 20 games during his first season in Brooklyn amid overlapping injuries (2019-20). His availability was further diminished by two leaves of absence (2020-21), a season-long refusal to adhere to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that sidelined him for most Nets home games in 2021-22 and finally an eight-game suspension for promoting an antisemitic film (2022-23).
Irving did not offer regret for any of his own contributions to the breakdown of the relationship, including the latter incident that prompted him to apologize on his Instagram page. The post has since been deleted.
“I delete things all the time. It’s no disrespect to anyone within the community. I’m just living my life,” Irving said. “I stand by who I am and why I apologized. I did it because I care about my family. I have Jewish members of my family that care for me deeply.”
After declining Irving’s trade request last offseason, the Nets accommodated his recent one this week after both parties failed to agree on a contract extension. The Nets dealt Irving and veteran forward Markieff Morris to Dallas for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and two second-round picks. Despite saying that Nets star Kevin Durant “wishes things could’ve gone differently,” Irving stressed the two “remain brothers.”
Despite describing himself as “very tired” following his first practice with Dallas, Irving plans to make his debut when the Mavericks (29-26) play the LA Clippers (31-26) on Wednesday (10 pm ET, ESPN). Although Mavericks guard Luka Doncic plans to join the team, Dallas coach Jason Kidd said Doncic will stay sidelined after missing the past two games with a right heel contusion. Although Irving said he was playing pick-up basketball near his hometown in Montclair, NJ when he learned about the trade, he missed the Nets’ past two games with right calf soreness.
“Those two are going to work and build their relationship and their rhythm,” Kidd said of Doncic and Irving. “It will take some time, but I don’t think it will take as long as others would take.”
Kidd maintained that optimism for a few reasons. He outlined a clear pecking order between the two All-Star players.
“We understand this is Luka’s team,” Kidd said. “It will be Luka’s team.”
Kidd believed Doncic will welcome the additional scoring and ballhandling help after ranking second in the NBA in usage rate (37.6%) and fifth in minutes per game (36.5).
“He’s still in control. What we’re looking at is how to make things a lot easier so he won’t be as tired coming down the stretch,” Kidd said. “Setting a screen will also help someone else get an open shot. Just the gravity that Luka has, that’s going to happen. I think the game will become easier for him.”
Lastly, Kidd predicted Irving will coexist with Doncic after previously meshing well with other stars, including LeBron James (Cleveland), Kevin Durant (Brooklyn) and James Harden (Brooklyn).
“I want Ky to be Ky,” Kidd said. “I want him to go out there and play at the level we all know he can play. Luka is going to join the party. He’s that good. You don’t have to worry about whether he’s going to show [up]. We all know that he loves the stage.”
Irving said he and Doncic have only exchanged brief text messages, but expects to establish a deeper connection once they meet in person. Though they have yet to participate in a practice or game together, Irving sounded bullish about the fit.
“Am I worried about us coexisting or finding cohesion? No,” Irving said. “I’ve played with some of the best of all time, greatest of all time. I’ve been with some of the greatest teams in the Olympics and World (Cup). This will be my first time seeing one of those bad Europeans dominating up close.”
Irving grew up idolizing Kidd as one of the NBA’s best points guards. Irving struck up a strong relationship with Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison in the executive’s previous stint with Nike. Will those relationships foster more growth?
“They’re going to push me beyond where I think I am right now,” Irving said. “That’s the type of mentorship and guidance I feel like I need at this point in my life. I’m not a kid with an NBA dream anymore. I don’t want to dream in this space. I want to win and win with guys that exemplify greatness every single day. It’s not just on the court. It’s their professionalism, how they treat others and the relationships. It’s genuine and authentic.”
After the Golden State Warriors swept Dallas in last year’s Western Conference finals, will Irving be enough to help the Mavs take the next step toward championship contention? Although Irving helped the Cavaliers win an NBA title in 2016, he has yet to return to the NBA Finals since then.
“The expectation, of course, is to work toward a championship,” Irving said. “Me saying we’re going to win a championship is not going to do that. It’s just words. I’d rather show you out there and just let the chips lay where they are.”
After stalled contract negotiations with Brooklyn led to a trade, does Irving expect the Mavericks to have preliminary talks about retaining him as a free agent this summer? After professing gratitude to Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James for pushing to reunite with his former teammate, does Irving see the Mavs as a long-term partnership?
“No rush. Just staying patient. I will let those pieces lay where they are,” Irving said. “I have to stay poised and control what I can control. My effort on the court and my attitude, those are things I bring every single day and I’ll focus on that. The business aspect is ruthless, so I don’t want to be distracted. I want to be all-in with what’s going on.”
After all, Irving has practical experience during his time in Brooklyn on how that dynamic can affect his success — or failure.
“The greatest lesson I can share with you that I learned from signing with Brooklyn in free agency is I wish I got to know the people that were behind the organization,” said Irving, who joined Brooklyn with Durant in the 2019 offseason. “I went there just as a kid with a dream on my mind and with KD.
“We wanted to bring a championship to a young organization … I grew up a New Jersey Nets fan. It was in my blood. I cheer for them. But when things start to change and you’re not getting transparency from the front office or people around you, I don’t know what person feels comfortable in that type of environment.”
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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