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The Brooklyn Nets took a risk when they signed Kyrie Irving to a maximum contract in 2019. The six-time All-Star feuded with younger teammates on his way out of Boston and was blamed for torpedoing its season. Irving is one of the most talented players in the NBA, but his mercurial attitude makes him difficult to depend on.
But like most teams in the league, the Nets focused on the talent. They inked Irving to a four-year, $144 million contract. Less than halfway through, they’re already seeing what could go wrong. Irving’s antics are threatening to sink Brooklyn’s championship aspirations.
Irving missed his fourth straight game Tuesday after taking an absence last week attributed to personal reasons. He isn’t expected to return this week, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews.
When asked Tuesday if he expects Irving to play again this season, Nets head coach Steve Nash offered one word: “Sure.”
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The NBA is looking into Irving’s actions after a video appeared online of him attending an indoor birthday party for his sister without a mask. Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks says the team is aware of the footage.
On Tuesday, just minutes before the Nets tipped off in their game against the Denver Nuggets, Irving was spotted on a Zoom call for progressive Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi.
So can’t confirm nor deny if this is true but some are saying Kyrie Irving was spotted at a party last night. So tell Steve Nash we found his point guard
— George Jarjour (@GeorgeOnTap) January 12, 2021
While the circumstances surrounding Irving’s absence are unknown — Nash has not announced a timetable for his return — he wouldn’t be the first mercurial star to get caught flouting Covid-19 guidelines this season. Last month, James Harden was spotted at a large indoor birthday party and Las Vegas nightclub, each time without a mask. On Tuesday, Harden took his reported trade demands to another level, declaring the Rockets “aren’t good enough.”
He has three years and $133 million with a player option remaining on his deal.
Though Harden’s and Irving’s circumstances are different, they’re both putting their teams in precarious situations. Brooklyn invested in Irving, and he’s still at the beginning of his contract. The Nets were planning to build a championship contender around Irving and Kevin Durant, who’s back this season after missing last year with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
After a promising start, the Nets have fallen back to .500, and Irving’s whereabouts are hanging over the team. An agent told my SportsMoney colleague Mike Mazzeo the episode is “one of the most bizarre things” he’s ever seen.
There are two different issues at play here. Though Irving hasn’t made public comments since his absence, one of his former coaches said he’s “genuinely upset” about the events that unfolded at the Capitol last week. That would make him one of many. In a June survey, the CDC found 40.9% of respondents reported experiencing at least one adverse behavioral or mental health condition since the start of the pandemic. Many of us are struggling with our mental health right now. There’s nothing wrong with taking time off to get better.
But that doesn’t excuse Irving partying maskless — if the videos are accurate. The NBA season is on the brink due to a flurry of Covid-19 outbreaks. Attending an indoor birthday bash is the epitome of irresponsibility.
It also doesn’t excuse his apparent lack of communication. The Nets invested $144 million in Irving. They deserve to know the status of their superstar point guard.
Irving abruptly demanded a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, leaving LeBron James in his final season there. He then reneged on his promise to re-sign with the Celtics, and proceeded to play poorly in the playoffs. Irving shot just 30% from the field in Boston’s final four games against the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2019 Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
Upon signing with the Nets, Irving admitted he “failed” his teammates in Boston. But the pattern seems to be happening again in Brooklyn. It’s a reminder to NBA teams about the value of looking beyond the talent.