Mavs' Kyrie Irving returns to Brooklyn: 'I've made my peace'

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 7, 2024

NEW YORK -- After playing his first game in Brooklyn since being traded exactly one year ago, Kyrie Irving said his motivation for asking the Nets to trade him was that "it was time to get my own peace of mind and go somewhere where I was able to thrive."

"I mean, I don't want to get too deep into it because I love protecting the people that I'm in business with, even if it doesn't work out," Irving said after scoring 36 points and leading the Dallas Mavericksto a 119-107 victory over theNetsat Barclays Center on Tuesday night. "Again, I wish all those guys well. But conversations that needed to be had weren't had before the trade deadline, and I don't know if anything needed to be salvaged.

"I just think it was time to get my own peace of mind and go somewhere where I was able to thrive, and be in a situation where I didn't have to worry about kind of behind-the-back talk or the media talk or not knowing how to handle real-life circumstances that has nothing to do with the game of basketball. It has everything to do with how you handle someone as a person.

"While I was here, I learned a lot of lessons. I've made my peace again, like I said, and I just want to move forward."

Irving's trade from Brooklyn to Dallas came a few days before the Nets sent Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns. This season, Durant and Irving have made their returns to Brooklyn within a few days of each other, with the Suns beating the Nets last Wednesday before Irving and Luka Doncic (35 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists) powered Dallas past Brooklyn on Tuesday night.

With the Nets (20-30) having lost 15 of their past 20 games, it's a reminder of just how much things have changed in Brooklyn -- and of the promise of Irving and Durant's partnership when they arrived in Brooklyn in free agency before the 2019-20 season.

Instead, the Nets won only a single playoff series in Irving and Durant's three and a half years with the franchise. They came within an inch of beating the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2021, a series that James Harden played virtually all of with an injured hamstring and that Irving missed most of because of a sprained ankle.

"Things could have changed, and you look back at the past and you have 20-20 vision -- this could've gone right or if this would've happened," Irving said. "If I didn't get injured versus the Bucks, do I still ask for a trade? If KD's foot wasn't on the 3-point line, are we talking about a different legacy here? If James doesn't ask for a trade ... all the woulda, coulda, shoulda, wouldas, hopefully after this night, we can just put that to rest and just move forward and I can look forward to the rest of my career and just handle it in Dallas and going after my second championship."

Irving and Doncic, playing in just their 24th game together this season, put on a show Tuesday night, helping Dallas to an 18-point lead at halftime and keeping the Mavericks (28-23) in command for most of the night. When Brooklyn cut the deficit to six with just under five minutes to go, Irving hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the game away.

He also had the highlight of the night: an emphatic one-handed jam off an alley-oop pass from forward Josh Green, a play that coach Jason Kidd said Irving called in the huddle. Kidd joked that he told Green to throw a bounce pass.

"Perfect pass," Irving said with a smile. "Shout out to Josh Green. Perfect pass. He had the belief in me. A lot of my teammates didn't think that I could catch lobs, but told them to look at my summer highlights, man. No, but it felt good to get up there and convert that dunk. It's not too often you see me dunk, so I'm grateful that I got a highlight here, man. It felt good."

Unlike last week, when the Nets welcomed back Durant with a tribute video during introductions, there was no fanfare for Irving's return to face the team for which he played 143 games. When Irving was introduced Tuesday, the videoboard showed a simple "Welcome Back" message for him and former NetsSeth Curry and Markieff Morris.

During the game, Irving was met with some boos whenever he had the ball, followed by cheers from the contingent of Mavericks fans in attendance whenever he scored.

The relatively quiet way Tuesday's game played out stood in stark contrast to Irving's noisy tenure with the Nets. He took multiple leaves of absence during the 2020-21 season, missed most of the 2021-22 season because he declined to get the COVID-19 vaccine and thus ran afoul of New York City's vaccine mandate and was suspended in November 2022 after promoting an antisemitic film on social media.

Irving, who spent much of his childhood in New Jersey, acknowledged Tuesday that he'd made some mistakes during his time with the Nets, though he declined to say what specifically they were.

"Everything that I've learned about myself has come from being in the city and being in Jersey," Irving said. "So when I got an opportunity to play for the New Jersey Nets, or play for the Brooklyn Nets-- I always make that mistake -- it was a childhood dream.

"Obviously I fell short in terms of the championship aspirations [in Brooklyn]. But for me, I think it was bigger than a championship here. I had to really take some moral stances that propelled me into a place in my life that I had to become accustomed to. There were some political things that were going on here as well that I couldn't control that I was responsible for. There was some things that I did on my accord that I look back on and they were mistakes. And I have to be accountable for those things. I'm not perfect. But one thing I can say is I've been able to learn from things and continue to push forward."

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