Kyrie Irving says reception at MSG 'nothing but a distraction at this point'

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Saturday, February 2, 2019

NEW YORK -- Celtics All-Star and pending free agent Kyrie Irving got a warm welcome at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, with the crowd greeting him with a loud ovation during visiting player introductions for Boston's game against the New York Knicks.

Irving also heard cheers from the crowd each time he touched the ball early in the first quarter. And a chant of "We want Kyrie" filled the arena early in the second half.

Asked about the reception after Boston's 113-99 win, Irving replied, "It's nothing but a distraction at this point. Like I said, I'm appreciative of the fan support I get in any arena. But of course, coming back home -- obviously, what's going on in terms of that noise and commentary, it's just a bunch of nonsense right now. So, can't do anything about it. I'm just accepting, I'm appreciative, but at the same time, I got a game to focus on."

New York likely will pursue Irving in free agency this summer.

The Knicks' trade of Kristaps Porzingis on Thursday leaves them with the chance to have $71 million in cap space -- enough for two max free agents this summer.

Irving, 26, strongly implied earlier Friday that he isn't fully committed to re-signing with the Celtics, something he said before the season that he had planned to do.

When asked if his mindset regarding his decision to re-sign with the Celtics had shifted, Irving said, "Ask me July 1." He later added that the Celtics still remain "at the head of the race" regarding free agency.

Asked after Friday's game if he thinks the free-agency talk will cool between now and July 1, Irving said the answer is obvious.

"You know the answer to that, man," he said. "Obviously you would hope it would quiet down. But like I said, it doesn't help when, across the league, it's just outside noise again, and my name gets thrown into it -- and conversations, speculations, everybody's worried about their credibility. I don't know how this media empire works. I know it's a bunch of nonsense to me. I have a focus on winning a championship this year, and that's where my focus is gonna stay. So even me saying something like that is not concrete enough for anybody.

"So, it is what it is. I gotta go home and take care of my friends and family, and that's the stuff that really matters for me."

Irving was also asked Friday about the Knicks' decision to trade Porzingis.

"I respect the Knicks organization," Irving said. "Obviously they are making moves to position themselves for this upcoming summer. So I wish them the best."

Opposing teams expect the Knicks to be aggressive in pursuing the top free agents in the coming offseason, a group that includes Irving, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler.

Some close to Durant see New York as a possible landing spot for the back-to-back NBA Finals MVP if he chooses to leave the Golden State Warriors, according to league sources.

Knicks president Steve Mills said Thursday that the club would take a conservative approach with its cap space.

"We're going to be prudent in how we use that room because we're still consistent in building this team through the draft and with young players," Mills said. "And when there is an opportunity to add a free agent, that certainly is one of the tools that we have in our toolbox."

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