Kyrie IrvingPhoto: Getty Images
In Brooklyn’s precarious position, scandal is a trap, and Kyrie Irving has provided it in abundance. Microphones and social media are just as important an occupational hazard for Irving as soft tissue and ligament injuries are for his colleagues. In that regard, the Nets All-NBA point guard can be a walking OSHA violation.
From throwing gas into the bubble discussion at a time when players risked losing hundreds of millions of dollars, to maskless parties in the middle of the 2020 season during a COVID spike, to missing half the season to avoid a vaccination until to buying deranged anti-vax conspiracies, Irving has been a regular PR nightmare.
Indulgence is one of Irving’s weaknesses and his unapologetic apology over two weeks ago was a disastrous example of his personality sabotaging him in an awkward position. Since then, Irving has fulfilled the requirements set for him by the Nets organization to rejoin the team.
in a (n Interview on Saturday with SNY’s Ian Begley, Irving discussed reactively defensively and steadfastly denied the intentional dissemination of anti-Semitic content. Irving showed at least the appearance of someone who regrets his actions. On Sunday, Irving sounded more sincere than ever during a press conference where Nets Brass confirmed his reinstatement.
“I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or anti-Semitism or anything anti-humanity,” Irving said. “I think we should all have the opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are being assumed about us. And I feel like it was necessary for me to stand there and take responsibility for my actions because there was a way I should have dealt with all of this.
“… I didn’t want to harm any person, any group of people. And yes, this is a big moment for me because during this process I can learn that the power of my voice is very strong. The influence I have within my community is very strong. And I want to be responsible for that. To do this, we have to admit when you were wrong and instances where you hurt people and it affects them.
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Irving loses a few points here for that standard message about understanding the power of his voice. It’s been a year since he used his voice to push vaccine opposition and billed himself as the voice of the voiceless.
However, he appeared serious and didn’t resort to his cryptic way of circularity to avoid direct answers while demonstrating the kind of response a repentant person gives rather than an unrepentant idiot reading out a ransom note.
“It should have been on the first day that I dealt with all of this, just to be there for anyone who felt this was anti-Semitic,” Irving said. “And I should have made it clear that I’m not an anti-Semite and I don’t mind when it comes to the way I live my life. So the learning lesson for me was just the power of my platform and the impact it can have if not properly maintained. So, meeting different people within the Jewish community has given me clarity on a deeper understanding of what is going on and the impact and the injuries that have been caused.”
In the two weeks since Irving’s suspension on Nov. 4, the Nets have been surprisingly quiet. Brooklyn got a taste of harmony and ultimately decided against lighting a match near a leaking gas line by passing Ime Udoka to remove the interim tag from longtime assistant Jacque Vaughn.
But as much as this is a healing moment, it signals that it’s also time to revive Irving’s “(Blank) Days Since An Incident” sign. Irving is rejoining a Nets team that has focused on baskets in his absence. Irving’s dazzling offensive repertoire has masked an apathy on the defensive. Irving found himself on the outside by going defensive, but that’s where he should put more energy once he’s back in uniform.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Irving’s negative .9 defensive RAPTOR ranked 41st out of 72 point guards who played at least 1,000 minutes in the regular season during the 2021-22 season.
Since Irving was suspended by the 2-6 Nets on Nov. 4, the Nets have won 5 of 8, fourth fewest per 100 possessions after being the league’s worst defensive team while Irving was active. Vaughn’s Nets defense tends to be more switch-heavy, unlike Nash’s guards, who attack via screens, while Bigs defend pick-and-rolls in drop coverage to prevent layups or back cuts to the rim. His first opportunity to fit in with the resurgent Nets will come against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.
Before Nash’s firing, Irving called off his head coach’s playcalls. Irving averages 26.9 points, 5.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds, but at the time of his suspension the Nets were ranked 25th in assist-to-turnover ratio and have been 12th since Nov. 4. The Offense the Nets, who scored 111.6 points per 100 possessions, out Irving, averaging 112 during his suspension.
Irving is an integral part of the Nets making a title run, but there are three things he needs to do for that reality to come to fruition. By embracing Vaughn’s philosophy on both sides, integrating his offensive charms with decentralized offense, and avoiding the added distractions that have plagued his Brooklyn stint, Irving can finally begin to redeem his polarizing image.