LOS ANGELES — Kyrie Irving’s four seasons with the Brooklyn Nets were marked by massive expectations, postseason disappointment, several controversies and, ultimately, a trade request that saw him dealt to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
“I just know I want to be places where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said during his introductory news conference. “There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected. I work extremely hard at what I do, but no one talks about my work ethic. Everyone talks about what I’m doing off the floor. I just want to change the narrative and write my own story.”
Irving, 30, asked out of Brooklyn after contract extension negotiations stalled. The eight-time all-star, who teamed up with Kevin Durant on the Nets in 2019 free agency, said his relationships with the organization’s decision-makers were strained beyond repair.
During his turbulent tenure in Brooklyn, the Nets sent Irving home in 2021 after he refused to get the coronavirus vaccine, and they suspended him for eight games this past November after he promoted an antisemitic film on social media. Irving is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer after the Nets expressed little interest in offering him a new contract.
“I wish I would have gotten to know the people who were behind the organization,” Irving said. “I went in there and was just a kid with a dream on my mind with [Durant]. We wanted to bring a championship to a young organization. They were only around for six years [in Brooklyn]. I grew up a New Jersey Nets fan. It’s in my blood. I cheer for them. But when things start to change and you’re not getting transparency and honesty, from people in the front office or people around you, I don’t know what person feels comfortable or confident in that environment. It’s water under the bridge now. I left them in fourth place. I did what I was supposed to do, took care of my teammates and was incredibly selfless in my approach to leading.”
Though Irving said in March that there was “no way I’m leaving [Durant] in Brooklyn,” both stars explored their options last summer after a disappointing first-round playoff exit. Irving ultimately picked up his player option to return, while Durant issued a trade request that went unfulfilled.
Despite his early-season suspension, Irving was selected as an all-star starter and is averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists. But his partnership with Durant ended with just two playoff series victories and no appearances in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Obviously [Durant] wished things could have gone differently,” Irving said. “We had goals together. It wasn’t just as a duo. We were seeing ourselves as savants in the culture, and we wanted to teach the youngins. If we got some young guys that were willing to sacrifice and buy in to what we had going on, we were going to flourish, we felt. But it just didn’t work out.
“We still remain brothers, but it is a business at the end of the day, as we always say. I have to look out for my family, and ultimately I want to be at peace every time I come into work, rather than things hanging over my head or wondering what people think about me in the building. I felt like, being in New York City, the media capital of the world, it was so many things that leaked out that I didn’t even know where they came from.”
Durant, who is sidelined with a knee sprain, has yet to publicly address the trade or Irving’s desire to leave Brooklyn.
LeBron James said in an ESPN interview Monday that he was “definitely disappointed” that the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to trade for Irving. James and Irving reached three straight Finals and won the 2016 championship together on the Cleveland Cavaliers before Irving requested a trade and was moved to the Boston Celtics in 2017.
“Me and [James] have grown as human beings,” Irving said. “He’s always going to be my brother, and I’m always going to have great things to say about him and his family. But my focus is here.”
The Mavericks envision Irving pairing with franchise guard Doncic to lead a high-powered offensive attack. Irving will plug a hole created when guard Jalen Brunson departed for the New York Knicks in free agency last summer.
“[Doncic and Irving] are going to work and get their relationship and their rhythm,” Coach Jason Kidd said. “It’s going to take a little time, but I don’t think it will take as long as others will think. Kyrie is 30-something, he’s a veteran, and he understands what he has to do. This isn’t two 23-year-olds trying to see who is the alpha. We understand that this is Luka’s team, and it will be Luka’s team.”
Irving, who previously played with ball-dominant stars such as James, Durant and James Harden, said he wasn’t concerned about establishing a cohesive partnership with Doncic.
“I’ve played with some of the best of all time, the greatest of all time,” he said. “I’ve been on some of the greatest teams, in the Olympics and world championships. This is going to be my first time seeing one of those bad Europeans come over and dominate up close.”
Dallas reached the 2022 Western Conference finals thanks to a strong postseason from Doncic, and it clearly felt pressure to upgrade his supporting cast following Brunson’s departure. The Mavericks traded defensive-minded forward Dorian Finney-Smith, scoring guard Spencer Dinwiddie, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and two future second-round picks to acquire Irving, who could sign with another team as a free agent in July.
Whether Irving’s time in Dallas proves more fruitful than his Brooklyn tenure could be determined by his ability to avoid controversy. Before Tuesday’s news conference, multiple outlets reported that Irving had deleted an Instagram post in which he had apologized to members of the Jewish community for his refusal to disavow the antisemitic film.
“I delete things all the time,” he said. “It’s no disrespect to anyone within the community. I’m just living my life. I stand by who I am and why I apologized.”