Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving is the healthiest he’s been in five years, which means the rest of the NBA should take serious notice.
During Brooklyn Nets Media Day, most of the focus on Kyrie Irving was based on his mental and emotional approach during his official introduction to fans. He appears to be genuinely happy and well balanced on those issues.
While those things are important, what is equally important is his physical well being. Here, we will detail his arduous journey back to being the healthiest he’s been in five years and what it could mean for the Nets.
Throughout the 2015 NBA Playoffs, Irving was playing through left knee tendonitis until he finally collapsed on the court, suffering a fractured left kneecap 43 minutes into Game 1 of the 2015 NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors. The injury required an invasive surgical procedure.
The Sporting News reported, “Surgery to repair such an injury typically requires screws, wires, or heavy sutures to hold the fractured kneecap together.” While the exact details of the procedure are not fully known, Irving’s surgery did include some elements of screws, wires or sutures to repair his knee.
The surgery was relatively successful as the next season Irving hit his famous game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA finals to propel the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever NBA Championship.
Clearly, though, after the injury, he required significant load management as in the 2015 NBA season his minutes dropped by 4.9 minutes per game. In the 2014 season, he averaged 36.4 minutes per game and played in 75 regular-season games. After the surgery in the 2015 season, he averaged 31.5 minutes per game in only 53 regular-season games in comparison.
In the 2016 season, he appeared to be fully healed as he played in 72 games and his average minutes increased to 35.1 per game. However, in the 2017 season, after being traded to the Boston Celtics, he played in only 60 games and his minutes per game dropped to 32.2 that season.
What few may know is that on Jan. 25, 2018 Cleveland.com reported that prior to Cleveland trading Irving to Boston, “Irving had threatened over the summer to sit out at least some of the upcoming season to have knee surgery, after Gilbert initially refused to honor the 25-year-old’s trade request. The escalation reportedly convinced the Cavs their relationship with Irving wasn’t salvageable.”
For whatever reason, Irving was cryptic when asked about this report and said, “Sounds like a HIPAA violation, That’s what it sounds like to me.” However, as previously noted, Irving’s first year with Boston did indicate his left knee was problematic due to the number of games he missed and reduction in his average minutes played per game.
Irving knew something was wrong with his knee and was trying to do what was best for his career and body while he was still on the Cavs if the original Cleveland.com report is to be believed.
On March 5, 2018, Irving experienced soreness in the knee but elected to play through it even though Celtics Coach Brad Stevens previously announced Irving would miss that scheduled game. Stevens and Irving knew about the soreness since March 3, 2018, in a game against the Rockets.
After this flare-up, Irving complained the pain was not subsiding as it usually did after these regular flare-ups. He wanted to avoid another surgery so he would not be out for a long period of time, but it was becoming more clear that a follow-up procedure was inevitable.
The Celtics were aware of Irving’s knee issue when they traded for him. The Celtics and Irving were doing their best to manage the problematic left knee but by March 20, 2018, Shams Charania reported that Irving would be getting a second opinion on the knee.
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
By then, according to Tony Massarotti, it was evident that Irving needed to have a follow-up procedure to remove the screws in his knee.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won't play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
Despite this, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said the “best remedy according to the Celtics was rest,” even though Irving had missed three-straight games.
.@wojespn gives us an update on Kyrie Irving's sore left knee. pic.twitter.com/rwIKf2as4y
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 20, 2018
Ultimately, on March 23, 2018, the Celtics announced Irving would indeed undergo a “minimally invasive procedure to alleviate irritation in his left knee.” The team did not initially offer a timetable for return but typically such a procedure takes 3-6 weeks to recover from.
On March 24, 2018, Irving underwent surgery to remove a tension wire in his left knee. Per the Celtics, “The wire was originally placed as part of the surgical repair of a fractured patella sustained during the 2015 NBA Finals. While removal of the wire should relieve irritation it was causing in Irving’s patellar tendon, the fractured patella has fully healed and Irving’s knee has been found to be completely structurally sound.’’
In the 2018-2019 season, Irving played in 67 regular-season games and averaged 33 minutes per night. He was also fully healthy for the playoffs. Although he didn’t play his best against the Milwaukee Bucks in last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, he did not appear to be hampered by his historically problematic left knee at all.
In light of Kyrie’s chronic left knee injury history dating back to his days as a Cleveland Cavalier, it is very possible the injury was a causal factor to some of the chemistry issues he had as a member of the Boston Celtics. It must have been difficult to maintain chemistry with his teammates when he was intermittently missing games trying to play through such an injury, especially as the team’s leader.
That brings us to the present. Irving’s knee was deemed structurally sound. A tension wire was removed from his left knee. That’s great news. However, it is unclear if there are still screws in his left knee, or if there ever were any inserted in the first place as the details of his initial surgery in 2015 were not fully disclosed to the public.
He is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, a franchise that employs some of the best team doctors, trainers and facilities in the NBA. He’s happy, healthy, playing as close to home as possible and will receive the best care possible for the first time in his career.
This bodes well for Irving and his future with the Nets. While many Irving detractors will insist Irving is injury prone, it’s quite possible his chronic left knee problems are officially behind him for good. Since joining the Nets, there have been no reports of any issues with Irving’s left knee, not even a whisper.
The Nets will likely manage Irving’s workload early this season as a precautionary measure but they have the luxury to do so as they have one of the best backup point guards in the NBA in Spencer Dinwiddie. At age 27, Irving is entering his prime and despite recently fracturing a bone in his face (a minor injury), he is essentially fully healthy entering the 2019 season.
Many NBA fans and even some of Irving’s new teammates believe Irving is a “Darkhorse MVP Candidate” entering the 2019 season. If the Nets can finish as a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference with a healthy Irving playing in 70 or more games while putting up his usual impressive statistics, an NBA MVP award for Irving may become a reality by the end of this season.
Cavs, Celtics and Knicks fans might hate to see it, but Nets fans would be elated. He’s part of the Nets family now. After all, he’s been through; it’s time to embrace him.