In Brooklyn’s precarious position, scandal is a pitfall and Kyrie Irving has supplied it in abundance. Mics and social media are as much of an occupational hazard for Irving as soft tissue and ligament injuries are for his peers. In that regard, the Nets All-NBA point guard can be a walking OSHA violation.
From throwing gasoline into the bubble discussion at a time when the players were at risk of losing 100s of millions of dollars to partying maskless in the middle of the 2020 season during a COVID spike, missing half the season to avoid vaccinating, to buying into deranged anti-vax conspiracies, Irving has been a regular P.R. nightmare.
Compliance is one of Irving’s weaknesses and his no -apology apology over two weeks ago was a catastrophic example of his personality sabotaging him in a predicament. Since then, Irving has completed the prerequisites the Nets organization instructed him to complete to rejoin the team.
In an interview on Saturday with SNY’s Ian Begley, Irving discussed reactively defensively and steadfastly denied purposely spreading antisemitic content. Irving at least showed the appearance of someone who regrets his actions. On Sunday, Irving sounded his most sincere yet during a news conference in which Nets brass confirmed his reinstatement.
“I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech, or antisemitism, or anything that is anti going against the human race,” Irving said. “I feel like we all should have an opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are assumed about us. And I feel it was necessary for me to stand in this place and take accountability for my actions because there was a way I should have handled all of this.
“... I meant no harm to any person, any group of people. And yeah, this is a big moment for me because I’m able to learn throughout this process that the power of my voice is very strong. The influence that I have within my community is very strong. And I want to be responsible for that. In order to do that, we have to admit when you were wrong and instances where you hurt people and it impacts them.
Irving loses a few points here for this boilerplate message about understanding the power of his voice. It’s been a year since he used his voice to advance vaccine denialism and referred to himself as a voice for the voiceless.
However, he appeared earnest, and didn’t resort to his cryptic brand of circular speaking to avoid direct answers while demonstrating the type of response a remorseful person gives instead of an unrepentant prick reading off a ransom note.
“It should have been on the first day that I was dealing with all this of just being there for all those that felt like this was antisemitic,” Irving said. “And I should have clarified that I am not antisemitic and I am not anti-anything 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 that it can cause if it’s not taken care of the right way. So meeting with different people within the Jewish community has offered me some clarity on a deeper understanding of what’s going on and the impact that was made and the hurt that was caused.”
In the two weeks since Irving’s Nov. 4 suspension, the Nets have been surprisingly tranquil. Brooklyn got a taste of harmony and ultimately decided against lighting a match near a leaky gas pipe by passing on Ime Udoka in favor of removing the interim tag from long-time assistant Jacque Vaughn.
Yet, as much of a healing moment this is, this signals that it’s also time to revive Irving’s “(Blank) Days Since An Incident” sign. Irving re-joins a Nets team that has been focused on hoops in his absence. Irving’s dazzling offensive repertoire has obscured an apathy on the defensive end. Irving found himself on the outs by getting defensive, but that’s exactly where he should spend more energy when he’s back in uniform.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Irving’s negative-0.9 defensive RAPTOR in the 2021-22 season ranked 41st out of 72 point guards who played at least 1,000 regular-season minutes.
Since Irving was suspended from the 2-6 Nets on Nov. 4, the Nets have won 5 of 8, allowing the fourth-fewest per 100 possessions after being the league’s worst defensive team while Irving was active. Vaughn’s Nets defense skews towards being more switch-heavy, in contrast to Nash having guards attacking over screens while bigs defend pick-and-rolls in drop coverage to prevent layups or back cuts toward the rim. His first opportunity to fit in with the resurgent Nets will come Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Prior to Nash’s firing, Irving was blowing off his head coach’s playcalls. Irving is averaging 26.9 points, 5.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds, but at the time of his suspension, the Nets were 25th in assist-to-turnover ratio and 12th since Nov. 4. The Nets’ offense that scored 111.6 points per 100 possessions with Irving out, averaged 112 during his suspension.
Irving is integral to the Nets making a title run, but there are three things he must do for that reality to come to fruition. By buying into Vaughn’s philosophy on both ends, incorporating his offensive wizardry into the decentralized offense and avoiding the ancillary distractions that have plagued his stint in Brooklyn, Irving can finally begin the process of rehabilitating his polarizing image.