Not very long before the NBA’s opt-in deadline for player contracts, Kyrie Irving decided that he indeed did want to opt in and return to Brooklyn for the final year of his current contract.
Although, it seems, he almost didn’t.
“There were options but not many because the stigma of whether or not I wanted to play or whether or not I’m committed to the team, which I thought was really unfair at times,” Irving said Monday at Nets media day. “I had a lot of time to think, and making the decision to come back to Brooklyn was the best one for me, for me to fit in here and just figure it out along the way as we get this party started.”
Irving decided to opt in even though, as he explained Monday, he lost a contract extension that was in the works because he refused to get vaccinated – but ultimately, after looking back at how last season ended, he ultimately felt Brooklyn was the right move.
“We were supposed to have all that figured out before training camp last year. It just didn’t happen due to my status of being unvaccinated, and that was a tough pill to swallow,” Irving said. “But watching (the end of last season) back gave me peace of mind that there was something more to strive for this year. There was something different we were going to bring, and it was easy to make that decision to come back because I knew I didn’t want to give up on something I hadn’t seen all the way through.”
Unfortunately, it got even weirder when Kyrie opted in and then Kevin Durant requested a trade – a situation Irving used an expletive beginning with “cluster” to describe – but after going through the summer, KD decided to stay, which was something Kyrie believes came from finally getting some honest communication between players and team brass.
“(If KD left), I knew that I could move on and get to a place where everybody – Kev, Sean (Marks), Joe (Tsai), our whole family and culture – could be comfortable. It needed some honest conversations, and that’s what I think we had this summer,” he said.
Kyrie, too, tried to be honest with himself in that same vein this summer.
“There’s a big timeline, a lot of days in summer where the offseason took its own courses, and I tried to just center in on what I want to accomplish: focusing on being the best teammate I can be and being on a great team and embodying that action every day,” he said. “I’m not perfect in terms of the way I handle relationships and situations in my life, and I won’t claim I have it all figured out, but I used this summer I to maximize getting to know the people around me, n this journey with me, and give them support in a way where we knew we could hold each other accountable.”
So will the journey finally end in an NBA title for the Nets in what could be (once again) the final year of the KD/Kyrie era?
“It’s going to be a long journey because there’s always obstacles, and the majority of the time, the healthiest team wins – and we have to be healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Irving said. “We have to have synergy as a team and understand each others’ strengths and weaknesses, but the sky is the limit, because we don't know what this team is going to paint on this canvas this year. We have the drive and motivation, now we just have to act on it.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN