LOS ANGELES — After his first practice session with the Dallas Mavericks, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said he felt “really wanted” by his new team, a stark contrast to the fact that he was “very disrespectful” at times during his turbulent three-and-a-half year tenure felt the Brooklyn nets.
“All I know is that I want to be places where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or treated in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said after Tuesday’s practice at USC Galen Hall. “There were times during this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected and my talent – I work extremely hard at what I do. However, nobody ever talks about my work ethic. Everyone’s talking about what I’m doing off the floor, so I just wanted to change that narrative, write my own story and just keep preparing in the gym, and now that I’m in Dallas I’m just concentrating on what I control.
The Nets granted Irving’s request for a trade by agreeing to a deal on Sunday that sent him to the Mavericks along with forward Markieff Morris in exchange for guard Spencer Dinwiddie, forward Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected first-round pick from 2029 and two second-round picks. all-rounder.
The Blockbuster deal satisfied Dallas’ desire to pair Luka Doncic with another superstar, at least for now, as Irving is in the final season of his contract. It also ended Irving’s dramatic stint at Brooklyn, which fell well short of championship expectations created when he signed a package deal with Kevin Durant in the summer of 2019.
Irving averaged 27.1 points and 5.8 assists in 143 games for the Nets, but the focus has been on off-court issues far more often than the eight-time All-Star’s offensive brilliance. He took two furloughs in the 2020-21 season, missed much of the 2021-22 season after refusing to comply with New York’s workplace COVID-19 immunization mandate, and was fired by the Nets in November as part of the episodes for the post suspended a link on Twitter to a film with anti-Semitic tropes.
Irving twice requested trades from Brooklyn, one prior to this season which he rescinded and the second last week which resulted in him becoming a maverick. His latest trade request came after failed contract renewal negotiations.
“I’m not the kind of person who really talks about names and goes behind their back to someone and tries to leak stuff to the media,” Irving said. “It was never me. Now I was a bystander, watching people say things about me that ultimately just fell off my shoulder. I’m really at a place where I’m thankful I’ve grown into lately a year and a half, two years. Spending time off the basketball court gave me time to really appreciate life in a new way, and I just know I need healthy boundaries, especially in this entertainment business. There’s a lot of disrespect that goes on with people’s families, with their names, and I’m just not worth it, so it’s nothing personal against any of these guys, against the front office.
“It’s just what I’m willing to accept and I took a risk. Luckily the Dallas Mavericks picked me up.”
Irving cited a lack of “transparency and honesty from people in the front office” as a reason he didn’t feel comfortable continuing his career with the Nets. Brooklyn won just one playoff series during Irving’s tenure and has granted midseason transfer requests from All-Star guards in each of the last two years for the past two years, sending James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers last season.
“I don’t want to go into too much detail because there’s water under the bridge now,” said Irving, who cited his relationships with Dallas coach Jason Kidd and general manager Nico Harrison as factors in his well-being with the Mavs. “I wish them the best. I left them in fourth place. I did what I was supposed to do, looked after my teammates, was incredibly selfless in my approach to leadership and I just want to do everything right for myself – – not to appease anyone who has anything negative to say about me or judge me. This basketball game – it’s just fun and I want it to stay that way.”
Irving admitted he deleted an Instagram post published in November apologizing to the Jewish community. He said he frequently deletes posts from his Instagram account and in this case intends no disrespect.
“I stand by who I am and why I apologized,” Irving said. “And I did it because I care about my family and I have Jewish family members who care a lot about me. Did the media know this beforehand when they call me so anti-Semitic? No. Did you know anything about my family? No. Everything was accepted. Everything was erased before I had anything to say. And I reacted, instead of reacting emotionally, maturely. I didn’t have to be defensive or attack anyone. So I stand by my apology and I stand by my people everywhere, of all walks of life, of all races, of all religions.”
Irving, 30, and Doncic, 23, are expected to immediately form one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos once Doncic is cleared to return from a bruised right heel. Irving will make his Mavs debut against the LA Clippers on Wednesday night; Doncic will miss his third straight game but will travel to LA to watch the game from the bench.
“This isn’t two 23-year-olds trying to figure out who the alpha is,” Kidd said. “We understand this is Lucas team and it will be Lucas team. … But now we’ve improved the squad where someone else can handle the ball.”
Irving, who said he’s texted Doncic but hasn’t had a conversation with his co-star since trading, has previously found success alongside MVP contestants. He played a central role in the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers championship run and three consecutive NBA Finals appearances while working with LeBron James, who expressed disappointment that his Los Angeles Lakers failed to win Irving last week. Irving played alongside Jayson Tatum with the Boston Celtics, Durant with the Nets and a host of superstars with Team USA.
With a smile, Irving remarked that playing with Doncic would be his first time playing with “one of those bad Europeans.” Irving, who like Doncic is an elite isolation and pick-and-roll creator, is confident they’ll figure out how best to pair them together.
“It’s still to be seen, but I think me as a hooper, I as a basketball player, do I worry that we’re going to live together and find cohesion? No,” Irving said. “As much as I can facilitate for him, as much as I can guide by his side, ready to do, but there’s no pressure here. Nothing is forced with me and him. I just want to play basketball and enjoy his talent and mine enjoy the teammates’ talent and work towards a championship.”
Irving joined the Mavericks with no assurances from either side that he would return to Dallas next season. He may become an unrestricted free agent this summer and there are no intentions to discuss an in-season contract extension when Irving would be limited to a two-year deal because he was recently traded.
“No hurry,” Irving said. “Just be patient and I’ll leave these pieces where they are.
“Once again, I will say it again and again: I have to stay calm and only control what I can control – my efforts on the pitch, my attitude. These are things I bring with me every day and just want to focus on. The business aspect of this is ruthless. So I don’t want to be distracted. I just want to be all in.